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Transcription of Love Maine Radio #339: Debby Irving and Donna Dwyer

Speaker 1:                              You are listening to Love Main Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Main Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a physician and editor-in-chief of Maine, Maine Home and Design, Old Port, Ageless and Moxie Magazines. Love Maine Radio show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                          This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you’re listening to Love Maine Radio show number 339, airing for the first time on Sunday, March 18, 2018. Today, we speak with racial justice advocate Debbie Irving who published her first book waking up white about her journey toward unpacking her white identity and creating effective social change. We also speak with Donna Dwyer, CEO of the My Place Teen Center in Westbrook. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                              Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the old port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingen Jorgenson, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Cory, Jill Hoy and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                          Debbie Irving is a racial justice educator, author and public speaker. She is also the author of Waking Up White, a book that tracks her journey unpacking her white identity. Thanks for coming in.

Debbie Irving:                      Thanks for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                          White identity, that’s such an interesting thing to even have to grapple with, I think.

Debbie Irving:                      Well, I didn’t know I had one actually until the age of 48 when I went to take a course called racial and cultural identities. It was a mandatory class when I was just starting out to get my masters in special ed. And I thought mistakenly that I was going to learn the racial and cultural identities of black and brown people so I could be a better teacher in racially mixed classrooms. And I was floored on the first day when the professor told us that we would each be doing our own personal racial and cultural identity dive because I honestly thought, “What am I going to be doing?” I didn’t know I had a racial identity.

Lisa Belisle:                          Do you think that we are almost uncomfortable if we are white to feel as though we have a racial identity?

Debbie Irving:                      Well, not everybody in any racial group experiences everything exactly the same. But are some or many white people uncomfortable? I think yeah, I think you’re right. I think people are uncomfortable because well, for a lot of reasons. One is that there’s this idea in the United States that we’re all individuals and we make it or not on our own. And white people are very much able to buy into that and think, “We’re all just individuals.” My own successes or failures, it’s on me. And so, we don’t see ourselves as a group and we don’t know, most white people, we don’t know what the stereotypes are or the group images are about us as white people. But we are very familiar with grouping other people, having stereotypes about all black people, all Asian people, all Latino people, all Arab people.

The idea of being in a group I think is what’s really uncomfortable. If you say a white identity, a white person has to for the first time maybe think, “Well, I don’t identify as white, I’m Italian, I’m Greek, I’m Irish, I’m English.” But white’s a real thing, it’s a real category with a whole experience that goes with it.

Lisa Belisle:                          I remember one of the anecdotes that you brought up in the book was about Native Americans and when you were a child asking where did all the Native Americans go. And I believe your mother’s response was something that probably we’ve all heard before, but tell me a little bit about that, tell the people who are listening with that story?

Debbie Irving:                      Yeah. There’s so much to unpack on this one little exchange. The exchange went like this, I said to my mother, “Where did all the Indians go?” And my mother was a really lovely, warm, compassionate woman, and she said, “It’s really sad, they drank themselves to death.” First of all, one thing to note there is that I was a little kid and I was curious, which is the most wonderful thing about human beings. We’re all actually curious, but I think we learned to be less curious over time because of fear of saying something stupid or wrong. And I sure learned in that moment, the conversation went on a little bit, which I talk about in the book. But it ended up being a conversation that made me never want to ask a question again like that because the answer was so uncomfortable for me.

It continued to be about Indians, they got really dangerous and they were drunk. And my mother told me a terrible story about a drunken Indian who went on a rampage who killed a family. All of that I now understand is widespread mythology. And my mother wasn’t lying to me, but she was teaching me a version of history that she had been taught. I’m sitting here looking behind you at the state of Maine, behind you and thinking my family is an old Maine family. We got a land grant up in Houlton, Maine. And this entire state and this entire nation of what we now call the United States of America was once indigenous land for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years. And that history was never taught to me. I was told that the Indians couldn’t handle liquor. Later, I think I learned that they couldn’t handle European disease. And so, there was a real manufactured myth of a people … oh, and that they lived in the wilderness, that they were uncivilized.

All of that is untrue, there is a really rich history of indigenous people’s in the United States, what became the United States. And unfortunately, there’s a really horrific story about what happened to their way of life and to the land that they were so attached to that has everything to do with people like my ancestors and descendants of my ancestors who were engaged in … We don’t talk about it, but it’s really a warfare akin to terrorism. Boy, that’s a lot we can unpack from that one question. I was right as a little child to wonder whatever happened to all the Indians and how sad for me I think that I got an answer that was by a well-intentioned woman with a lot of love in her heart that perpetuated myths that made me go on to continue to be in a state of ignorance.

Lisa Belisle:                          You also spend a fair amount of time talking about the sort of pull yourself up by your bootstraps, positive mentality that is really, it is actually a big part of I think white culture although maybe other cultures as well, but how damaging that really can be. This idea that if we just work really hard as individuals, then we are going to succeed. And that we should always put a happy smiley face on everything, but what if you’re from a cultural group that that’s not the way they approach things.

Debbie Irving:                      Yeah. When you say not approach things, are you thinking about a culture where working … Are you thinking about different work ethics or you’re thinking about the way that that one phrase, that one framing can work differently for people across different groups?

Lisa Belisle:                          I think what I’m saying is when I’ve had conversations with people who are, for example, I’ll just say Italian. And my family, which is French and Irish, we’re a little bit more conservative in the way that we interact. But I’ve been in situations with an Italian family, and there’s high volumes, there’s a lot of back and forth, the conflict is dealt with in a very different way. And so, what may initially come across is a little overwhelming for me because I came from the let’s all be happy, let’s all be harmonic and let’s look at this in a really positive way. They do differently because they are working through things in a not let’s put a smiley face on something and just move forward.

Debbie Irving:                      Right. That feels a little different than bootstraps for me. What I hear you talking about is a cultural norm, what you experience in your household is what I experienced in mine, which is we’re going to put a happy face on, buck up, look on the bright side, be optimistic. That’s a cultural norm around avoiding conflict. And also, what goes hand-in-hand in that is the idea of emotional restraint. If you are unhappy or if you’re angry or sad, that’s not for public consumption, just go do that in private. I’m going to come back and behave a certain way in polite company or shared company or company, whatever you want to say, but it gets positioned.

What you and I experienced is very much aligned with what’s called the dominant white culture. And that’s the culture that we’re all asked to understand and engage within when we go into the classroom, when we go into workspaces, when we’re in a hospital setting, we’re in the bank getting a loan, there is a way of being that’s seen not only as one way of being, but as right. And so, for me growing up if I had seen that Italian, and I did see Italian families who would kind of knock-down, drag-out over things in their household,. And I was really judgmental about that, I didn’t see that as another cultural way of being or one that might even be healthier. I saw it as a flawed way of being, as people who weren’t emotionally restrained and hadn’t learned that avoiding conflict was actually the more civilized approach.

Yeah. What you’re starting to tap into with that question and that observation is the idea of cultural norms that can work really well if you’re raised at a house that fits that. And can work against you if you’re raised in a different kind of a household or if the norm is that we’re supposed to be conflict avoidant and emotionally restrained, think about the judgment I used to cast on black and brown people who were trying to say, “I’m experiencing discrimination, it feels terrible. And instead of being curious, now we’re back to curiosity and listening and saying, “Tell me more,” I would judge them for being angry, “You’re too angry, you’re complaining, you’re stirring the pot,” it’s comments like that that are keeping this problem alive.

Lisa Belisle:                          I think and I want to go back to the bootstrap thing because I think you’re right, it is a separate thing. But I also remember you saying that one of the ways that you would deal with people feeling discriminated against was just to say, “Oh, no. I don’t think that that’s what they meant.”

Debbie Irving:                      Right. Yeah. Someone would say to me, “My check didn’t get cashed at your corner store.” My thought wouldn’t be, “You’re kidding, wow. What? I’ve got to go investigate that.” It would be, “No, no, no, no. They do that because they’ve done that for me.” I was so stuck in my own experience as a universal experience is how I now understand that. I just couldn’t hear truths that I didn’t want to be truth. As it turns out, there was discrimination all around me, I could have observed, but I turned a blind eye to it. And I did have some colleagues and friends, superficial friends I now understand of color trying to share discriminatory moments with me and I just couldn’t hear it.

Lisa Belisle:                          When I hear what you’re saying, I have had experiences like this and gone back and looked at myself a few years back or even a few minutes back and it’s horrifying to me. I would never want to intentionally hurt someone or intentionally try to shut them down or intentionally, I don’t know, engage in this dominant culture that’s so hurtful. But it still happens, and it’s so uncomfortable.

Debbie Irving:                      I am 10 years into this, it was 10 years ago this month or maybe 9 years ago this month that I started taking that course, racial and cultural identity. I am 10 years into a 24/7 learning curve, and if you could see my hand, I am not changing it at all, it’s a black diamond uphill. I still do things, I still behave in ways. What’s different is that I know I’m surrounded by colleagues and friends of color, they’re not superficial relationships. And I do have people point out to me or I will feel that feeling in my stomach and realize I’ve said or done something that may be hurtful and might just be a sign of my ignorance. And so, that’s a difference that I can catch myself and that people I have trusting enough relationships where people will reflect back for me.

And I know never to be defensive even when that feeling arises. I know to say, “What just happened? This is a learning opportunity. Why did I do that? Why didn’t I know that? Why did I react that way?” That really never goes away, the only thing I think feels different for me is that I’m not even comfortable with the discomfort, but I’m tolerant of the discomfort and I really, really understand, “Okay. This is a moment to stick with it, learn.”

Lisa Belisle:                          Let’s talk about the bootstrap thing, which I think is really interesting because it’s this idea that, I think you put it out there as kind of a New England thing where if you just go in and you just work hard, you can make your way in life. And any success that you have gained is a result of your hard work. And that was something that you learned over time, that wasn’t entirely an accurate representation of reality.

Debbie Irving:                      No. Go to the Midwest and they think they’re the ones who invented the bootstraps theory, and I go to the West Coast and they think they’re the ones. And I went to Canada, they have it there too. The bootstraps theory is a universal, it’s part of what’s called United States master narrative. Every country has an identity and a story that they tell about themselves to themselves and to the outside world on a big piece of the American master narrative is that the playing field is level, that anybody can come here and just work hard and you can make it. And if the going gets tough, we’ve got bootstraps so we can pull ourselves up. It’s very much woven into that level playing field concept. And it’s where a lot of times you’ll hear the word, we’re a nation of immigrants, which I want a challenge.

We’re not a nation of immigrants, we are a nation of immigrants and enslaved Africans who were brought here against their will and indigenous peoples who were already living here, who are trying very, very hard and still fighting every day for our sovereignty and land rights. That’s who we are, a nation of not just immigrants. But that immigrant idea that you can come here, you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps, that felt really real to me because I was surrounded, I grew up in Winchester, Mass, a white suburb and North of Boston. I was surrounded by families who had a story that went, “My great-grandparents came here from Italy, Ireland, Germany, France. They had two cents in their pocket, they didn’t speak a word of English, they were treated like dirt. And look at us now, a couple generations later. We worked hard and we made it, we achieved the American dream.”

The level playing field and the bootstraps theory of working hard really does work for a lot of people. In many ways, the United States and this great melting pot idea, the reason it’s problematic is that it excludes a lot of people who are so marginalized and targeted with barriers to not be able to access the American Dream that it makes them look like losers. It makes it look like they didn’t work hard enough, like they don’t want to work hard enough, like they want to live off the government. And so, it allows a whole group of immigrants who are able to eventually become white turn and judge and say, “My family did it, why can’t yours?” Without knowing all that’s gone down in terms of erecting and maintaining barriers to housing, lending, education, food supply, medical care, transportation that many communities of color experience that white people don’t even know about or have to know about.

Lisa Belisle:                          You gave the example of the GI Bill and how that meant different things to different people depending upon essentially their skin color.

Debbie Irving:                      Oh, my God, that blew me away. If I could say one thing that people say to me in the book blew them away, it’s that because there is this idea, this is again, that level playing field. The GI Bill, which for anyone listening GI was the term used for veteran after World War two. And the GI Bill was a set of benefits offered by the United States government to returning veterans, and it had a housing component and it had a higher ed component as well as a couple of others. My father went to Harvard Law School on that bill and my parents bought their first home in Winchester, Massachusetts for $17,000 on that bill. And I thought it was available to everyone, it turns out the GI Bill mostly excluded the black and brown GIs because there were 1.2 million black GIs, they were indigenous GIs, there were Latino GIs and there were Asian-American GIs.

And the reason black and brown GIs were mostly unable to access it wasn’t because it said it was a white only bill, it was because there were pre-existing barriers in our society. For instance, I’ll just speak to the housing piece. at the time, the federal housing authority when it created the mortgage in the 1930s and set out to develop the biggest part of the New Deal, a big housing expansion all across the United States. The mortgage was created to help facilitate that. And the mortgage said that private banks and some government lending agencies were suddenly going to be in the business of making loans to everyday people to go buy everyday homes. This is a completely new endeavor.

And the FHA said, “We want to be careful that all of us lenders manage our risk. And so, we’re going to think about what are good loans and what are bad loans.” And they created color-coded maps of cities and neighborhoods and towns that outlined who lived where according to racial lines. The practice was called redlining because outlined in red were neighborhoods where black and brown people lived and outlined in green were neighborhoods where only white people lived. Then there were two other gradations in between. And this all stemmed from one phrase, and the FHA guidelines that said the presence of even one or two non-white individuals can undermine real estate values.

That meant that keeping white neighborhoods white was the only way. In the imaginations of the people who constructed this policy that keeping white neighborhoods white was the only way to keep housing values maintained and escalate, maintained build equity in homes. The GI Bill was only good in white neighborhoods, so black and brown GIs could not use the housing portion of that. And you think about, “Well, yeah. That was back in the 1940s and here we are in 2018.” But the wealth transfer that happened, $120 billion went from government coffers into the hands of private individuals through the housing portion of the GI Bill. And that’s in 1940s dollars, and 98% of that went to white families like mine.

That house in Winchester that my parents bought, they upgraded at some point and bought a bigger house and then ultimately sold that for a million dollars, 40 years after that first $17,000 investment made possible by the government. And when you look at the white, black, or you could just call it the racial wealth gap today, you’d see how much more money white people have on average. Once I would have explained that as white people were harder working, smarter, more intelligent, more responsible with their money. And now, I just say it’s an inevitable outcome of policy after policy, I’ve just named one, policy after policy that’s diverted resources and rights and access to white people disproportionately.

Lisa Belisle:                          How did that feel to you when you learned that your family had benefited and you had benefited and other people weren’t benefiting from it given that you were studying this?

Debbie Irving:                      I felt duped, I felt really duped and angry. Because I really love the idea of a level playing field, I love the idea of being part of a country where it is a safe harbor, where people can come to this country like my Irish ancestors did from a time of famine and find a place, find a home and work really hard and make it. And when I realized that that American dream that I was so invested in really wasn’t available to everyone and that there was greed and mal-intent. It wasn’t just good people not knowing better that there was a lot of manipulation happening in ways that made me suddenly not proud to be a an American. And I go back and forth between that, there’s so many beautiful things about this country and yet we as a country are not living into, we’re not walking the talk.

And what bothers me much more is that there’s a denial of that. I said to my family at one of our holiday dinners, I said, “What’s worse, if somebody wrongs you or somebody goes on to deny the wrong?” And even the youngest kids at the table were able to, “Oh. If someone does something wrong and admits it, you can fix it. But if they deny it, that makes it so much worse. And that’s what I’m really stuck on, that’s the work I’m doing is to try to figure out how to move white people to owning what we, now we’re back to that first question white identity, why people don’t want to own it or why it might be uncomfortable.

There’s a really tragic history inflicted on many people by not every white person, but by this whole idea of white as a race, whiteness as a way of being. And it’s just harming so many people, and I would argue it’s even harming white people.

Lisa Belisle:                          I’m fortunate because I have children who are in various levels of education. And so, I’ve been able to through them to see this evolution in how we are approaching education on subjects like, I don’t know, let’s say imperialism. But it also creates a lot of questions for me because, for example, I live in Yarmouth and Yarmouth is a town that had a lot of Native Americans at one point. And a lot of friction happened and there were people who came to settle the land and there was fighting and people died as a result of it. The Native Americans became known as the ones who had done the bad deed. And now we have a settler cemetery, the narrative is that here’s all this violent stuff with these violent Native Americans and they wouldn’t just give us the land.

As I’m trying to even make, I was trying to just do an Instagram post about a cemetery that I ran past. I didn’t even know what to call it because it’s not really the settler cemetery, does this make sense?

Debbie Irving:                      Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                          We don’t even really have labels around a history anymore because it’s almost so unclear as to how we’re supposed to interpret things now.

Debbie Irving:                      Yes. This is a little bit like the game of telephone, we are so many generations removed now from what actually happened. And we rely on, the winners tell the history it’s part of that. But even then as if the history has just gone away, it’s whitewashed in a way that it’s amnesiatic. I think sometimes when I talk to people about trying to just be curious enough to understand what you don’t know, I think about, Imagine walking into a party and something terrible happened there two hours ago, but you have no idea that it happened and no one’s talking about it. But the dynamics and the tensions in the space are still going to be there, that’s what’s happening in this country. All of the dynamics born of that are still among us, it’s why we tell the history we do, it’s why we get anxious and fearful and defensive and sometimes violent when the history gets questioned. But we’ve got to go back to that original history so that we don’t repeat it.

Lisa Belisle:                          I enjoyed your book quite a lot, I’m glad that I took the time to listen to it. It was an audio book, so it was fun to listen to the voice that I’m now talking to. I’ve been speaking with Debby Irving who is a racial justice educator, author and public speaker. Also, the author of Waking Up White, a book that tracks her journey unpacking her white identity. For anyone who’s interested, it’s an uncomfortable read, but it’s extremely educational. And I came away feeling a lot more curious, and I tend to be curious anyway. I appreciate your coming in, thank you.

Debbie Irving:                      Yeah. Thanks for having me, it’s been great.

Speaker 1:                              Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s old port where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                          Donna Dwyer is the CEO of the My Place Teen Center, a youth development program based on Westbrook. Thanks for coming in.

Donna Dwyer:                     Thank you, excited to be here.

Lisa Belisle:                          Well, we’re excited to have you, you are doing some very important work at the My Place Teen Center.

Donna Dwyer:                     We are. It’s integral work, it’s hard work, it’s gritty work and it’s hard work. And the work with that we’re doing is we’re working with kids ages 10 to 18, they can come from anywhere in Maine as long. As they can get through our red doors, they can come. And basically, the kids will even tell you this, which is a little astonishing in its truth, but they come there to be safe. And we feed them, we take care of them for five hours a day every day of the week, after school, through the summertime. And it’s a academic excellence and character development, life skills program.

Lisa Belisle:                          When did you decide that you wanted to work in this area because this is a gritty area, this is not an easy area? You have lots of nonprofit and for-profit leadership experience, why did you pick this one?

Donna Dwyer:                     Well, I really didn’t. I was lured into it and compelled. And that’s the story that I would like to share as to why I am so honored to do this job. I was looking for executive director jobs back in 2011, the winter of 2011 and this was one of them. And I thought, “Oh, well, I’ll apply for it, but I don’t think this will be challenging enough for me.” I went on the interviews and the interviews kept on happening and they kept on whittling down the candidates and whatnot. And I was looking at other jobs as well that we’re nonprofit but much more business oriented type of acumen that was required. But then the final layer of interviews actually were with the kids.

If you can imagine for a moment I’m walking into this building, it’s a former United Methodist Church on Main Street in Westbrook. The outside and the inside was completely dilapidated, falling in on itself, the 17 couches that they had there were all falling apart, it was dirty. This at that time was a 13 year old organization. And the organization was on its last legs, frankly. When I walked into the building, I thought, “This is going to take such effort to be a change agent for this organization. Do I really want to put the physical exertion much less the intellectual exertion into this organization?”

But then this interview came, and there was a young woman named Cassie who led the process. And she was the ringleader of all these kids, she’s 17 years old, there were about 25 kids sitting on these broken-down couches. I sort of sat down on this couch where a spring was sticking out of it and they started asking me questions. And the questions were, “Are you going to be mean? Will you still take us on field trips? What kind of a person are you anyway?” And so, I answered those questions and I just found them to be so intriguing. And then Cassie asked this question with this blonde hair, dimples, blue eyes and she said these words to me, “Do you have the skillset to keep the doors open so that my brother coming up behind me will still be able to come?”

And when she asked me, do I have the skillset, I thought, “Wow, this girl has it going on.” I told her, I did have the skillset. And then when I found out who she really was, that at 17 she had been homeless since she was 13. She was a child of parents who are substance users, she frequently ran out of clothing because her mother would sell her clothing for drugs, that food was an issue. And on that first day when I got to know her, I noticed that despite her smile and her gleeful ways and the way she conducted herself, her hands were tremoring the entire time. And that was from anxiety because Cassie carried a backpack with her. And in that backpack was her life belongings.

Most kids carry their L.L.Bean backpack with schoolbooks, their lunch. Cassie carries her backpack with her belongings in it. And so, when I left that interview, I had never had such a strong reaction. But I said to myself, “I must have this job, please give me this job.” And thankfully, they did.

Lisa Belisle:                          What were you doing before? What was the thing that led you to the place where you were looking for a new position?

Donna Dwyer:                     My passion for a long time has been kids with disabilities, but I took a brief break. I have a child with a disability, so obviously my heart tugs at that population. But I took a brief break and went to graduate school and got three graduate degrees, one of them being an MBA. And during the MBA process, we learned from entrepreneurs who always told us to follow your passion. Well, my passion is tennis. And I play tennis six or seven days a week, I have to play tennis. Physically and emotionally, I have to play tennis just like you probably have to run. And so, I thought to myself, “Well, tennis is my passion. I have a good mind for business, I’m going to put together a multi-sport athletic club.”

During this MBA process, this was for four years, I put together a business plan working on a $48 million, 150,000 square foot multi-purpose, multi-sport athletic club to be housed in Scarborough. And then what happened in 2008? The market crashed. And so, we continued to work on this business model for a couple more years, but because of the largesse of this process, I couldn’t get it off the ground past the second seed of funding. Then I thought, “Well, I’m going to go back to my love, which is social services. I know that area, I can do a good job in that area. And I think I can make a difference.” And that’s what led me to My Place Teen Center, Cassie and My Place Teen Center.

Lisa Belisle:                          I think I need to back up a little bit, you have three graduate degrees?

Donna Dwyer:                     Yes. Because I got them mostly all for free so why not keep going. I started at USM to get a special ed degree, a master’s in special ed so that I could be a better mother, frankly. When my son was born, I didn’t have the skill set to be the parent of a child with a disability. He had significant health needs, significant cognitive needs and I wasn’t prepared. And so, when he turned four, I decided I’m going to go back to school and see if I can make a difference. And I knew that advocacy was going to be a huge part of his development and I needed to step up to the plate. I thought, “Well, I don’t think I have the time to go be a medical doctor, go back to school for that.” I thought what else would impact him ? And his schooling would impact him, I thought, “I need to learn the same skillset that the teachers and the administrators need to learn.”

From that vantage point, I went to get my special ed degree. And then I got an administration degree because I wanted to know what it was like to be a principal. Again, never in real practice, never in real theory, never wanted to be a teacher, just wanted to be a better mother. And then I started to work in the field, an advocate in the field. And then I thought, “Well, at some point soon, I know that my natural inclination is to be a leader. How can I be a better leader? I better go get an MBA.” And so, what happened was I worked at the school so I got my classes for free, and then I got a huge scholarship. For three master’s degrees, I paid $600. That’s why I kept on going.

Lisa Belisle:                          That’s amazing. Well, $600, that’s also amazing. But you are a mother of a child with a disability, which is enormously time consuming from my understanding and you were working. And you said, “Oh, I think I just want to get some more education.”

Donna Dwyer:                     I’ve always been compelled to be the best that I can be. And I knew that to be the best mother I could be, I had to be a better mother. And that’s the path that I chose to give me the confidence to do what was right for him. And also being an adult learner is amazing and awesome, and I loved every minute of it. It was hard especially the MBA, I was a fish out of water. I was sitting in a classroom with engineers and accountants, and I really don’t have that type of mind. But the challenge in of itself was part of the work, just the challenge was part of the growth.

Lisa Belisle:                          Tell me about the My Place Teen Center, what types of things do you work with on a day-to-day basis?

Donna Dwyer:                     First and foremost, we serve kids, and that is such a simple word, “Okay, you serve kids.” But they’re very complex and intricate, and especially the middle school level where the executive functioning in their brain isn’t fully formed. Their decision-making can either take them one way or the other. And this particular population that we’re working with, they are surrounded by a daily lexicon probably which you and I were never surrounded with growing up. And their lexicon, ” My dad’s in the jail, my mother had a needle sticking out of her arm. We don’t have enough food in the cupboards. I don’t know where I’m going to sleep, I don’t have a bed. I don’t have winter boots, I don’t have a coat.”

This is their daily existence. If they’re first dealing with themselves as a kid trying to blossom or just trying to survive and then they are dealing with these trauma related behaviors, incidences worrying about their own parents, and in some instances being a parent in the home, they have a choice. And the choice is so perilous and close to one another that they can go on the path like their past, like their present, like what they’re surrounded with. Or they can be given the courage and nurtured, the gripped and instilled the accountability to be able to go on a different path. And so, our levels of success with our kids take many shapes and sizes and forms. The most obvious is you want the kids to graduate first of all, and then you want them to go on to higher education or the army or get a job.

But some of our kids are living in such a state of perilousness that their level of success, for example, is a guy, a young man we’ve been following since he was 13 years old. We’re a 20 year old organization, he’s now 28. And for him, he has significant anxiety, he had significant learning disabilities. And he lived with a mom who has severe mental health issues. From a very young age, they worried about heat in their home, think about several weeks ago when we had that negative 14, negative 15. They worried about heat in their home. And so, here’s this guy who did end up graduating high school, his claim to fame that he’s very, very proud of and we’re proud of him is he is the lead salad bar manager for Ruby Tuesday’s. Yet here’s what else we know about him, he’s never been on government assistance, he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t need it. He wants to earn his own way, he provides for his mother.

And last winter on one of his shifts when he came home from work, he found her with a cord around her neck. She went into P6 for several months, and he’s still working at Ruby Tuesday’s. He takes his mother, she’s out of there now, she’s stable. But here’s this guy who struggled in school, has his own anxiety, he’s taking care of his mom and he’s a contributing member of our community and society. That’s his success story.

Lisa Belisle:                          How do you help people to choose a different path because the draw of the familiar is so strong, the patterning that they’ve experienced is so significant in their young lives that to go in a different direction that requires an enormous amount of strength and probably a lot of help?

Donna Dwyer:                     Yes. And it’s relentless and it’s never ending. Deliberately, we have set up our physical environment to mimic a home. From the moment you step on our property, there’s a white picket fence. In the spring, summer and fall there are beautiful gardens surrounding the building. There’s an American flag waving and there are beckoning doors for them to come through. We’ve decorated unlike any other teen center I’ve ever seen, we decorate it with art, with knickknacks, with comfortable furniture, a living room type feel. We also provide dinners to them every day so they can eat and get a really good nutritious full meal every single day. That’s one way that we do it.

Then we treat them with a lot of love. And our philosophy is love first in all instances and firm when we need to be, like parents. And the third way is through sheer will and determination is that we give these kids lots and lots, and lots of chances because we all make lots of mistakes, and these kids are no different. And so, we meet them where they’re at. That’s kind of a trite saying, a lot of people say that, we meet people where they’re at. But if you’re meeting them when they’re in the most raw, they’re the most vulnerable, they’re the most gritty and they’re there most opportunity for resilience to be immersed in them.

We are compelled, it is our passion to make a difference in these kids lives, our heart calls to them.

Lisa Belisle:                          You grew up in Cape Elizabeth. And that is known to be probably one of the more financially economically advantaged communities in the state of Maine. And yet, there are people who live in Cape Elizabeth who don’t have as much as other people do. Your organization is based in Westbrook and it has a very different demographic. And this is kind of a theoretical question, but how would somebody from Cape Elizabeth who had needs access the type of programming that you offer out in Westbrook?

Donna Dwyer:                     Meaning if a kid from Cape Elizabeth wanted to come?

Lisa Belisle:                          Yes.

Donna Dwyer:                     They can come. If they can get transportation to come there, they can come. Do they come? No, they don’t come. Kids from Cape typically do not come, Falmouth do not come, South Portland comes, Portland comes, Gorham comes, Standish comes, certainly Westbrook comes. Our barriers, there are none except you have to be a kid to come through our doors, but any kid from anywhere can come. What you’re seeing is, and I’ve gone to present up in Falmouth to the rotary a couple of times, that’s 10 minutes away from us. And I’ve said to them, and it was at dinnertime when I presented at their meeting, and I said to them, “10 minutes from these doors, 10 minutes from here are kids 35, 40 kids right now eating dinner that would not be eating.”

When you go to meetings, there’s always spreads of foods or events there spreads of food. And I always think to myself, “I don’t take this food for granted, I don’t take this spread for granted because I know that my kids don’t have access to that unless they come to us.” I will say this though, what I know for sure is that all kids, it doesn’t matter from where you’re from are at risk because if you don’t have an appropriate adult role model in your life, it doesn’t matter how much money you have or you don’t have. If you don’t have an appropriate adult role model that can be that beacon, that harbinger of hope, then you are at risk.

And so, kids who come from impoverished backgrounds can have an appropriate parent in their life, an appropriate adult role model. The wealth doesn’t make or break whether or not a kid and, I know you know this, whether or not they have success. Do they have opportunity and access to a lot more advantages? Yes. Do they maybe take advantage or feel like maybe there’s not the same level of gratitude that maybe the kids that come through the Teen Center doors versus kids who get it handed to them on a silver platter. That can be a barrier. And our kids notice that, they notice other kids’ clothes. They notice that other families sit down to dinner, but their’s don’t, they notice those things and it matters to them.

Lisa Belisle:                          If you are a kid that needs this sort of help, but you live in a community where for whatever reason Falmouth or Cape Elizabeth or Yarmouth or Cumberland, there’s just some reason why you’re not going for help. What is it that those of us around you can be doing? Does this question make sense?

Donna Dwyer:                     Yes, it does. We have caregivers, other providers specifically kids with disabilities that will bring autism or maybe some mental health issues. They’ll actually bring our kids, there’s the two kids coming from Gray on a regular basis that will bring kids through our doors. But just a kid who’s feeling a little lost maybe not connected in an extracurricular way or some peer group, a healthy peer group. I think it’s up to the adults, the guidance counselors, social workers, the parents to say, “Hey, there’s a safe place after school, they keep the kids busy.” The kids may not know that we are imbuing them with character development and life skills, but we certainly are.

I think it’s up to the adults surrounding this kid whether it be a school adult or a parent adult didn’t know the resources in the community. And for us, I said we’re not just for Westbrook, we are for any kid from any community anywhere at any time.

Lisa Belisle:                          Do you think that the challenges for children in this age group are different now than they once were?

Donna Dwyer:                     I do. And I think it’s different even in the six years that I’ve been with the center. And how it’s different truly I think is that the level of poverty is getting deeper. And I think that the opioid epidemic is prevalent, pervasive and poisonous and has a ripple effect on so many levels. And I noticed a change in my kids, not the ones that we’ve had for a while now, but the ones that are coming through the doors where there’s almost a sense of frailness to them that the level of desperation and the level of need that is available. Earlier in the summer, we had a field day where we invited families and the kids and we were just out, cookout and whatnot. And given this group for a number of reasons, parents aren’t often involved, the kids don’t want them there. Maybe the parents don’t want to be involved, so there’s a variety of reasons. This is the age group, did you want your parents around when you were in middle school or high school? No, you really didn’t.

These kids feel the same way. But I got to meet some of the families. And there were some of the parents that came and they were high. They were high in the middle of the day. And we had extra food, and not only were they eating that food, which was absolutely appropriate, but they wanted to take that food home with them, which was fine as well. But I got to see these parents in the state that the kids live with high day in and day out. And it reminded me why these kids are the way they are and what we have to do to change their paradigm, which is everything we can do.

Lisa Belisle:                          What keeps you going because this is not an easy job, and the word grit has been used a few times? This is a difficult situation, sometimes I’m sure you don’t have the successes you’d like to have. What keeps you showing up for work every day and investing in these children?

Donna Dwyer:                     I think I was raised with a work ethic, which was different from a lot of my Cape Elizabeth friends and peers. My parents instill a work ethic from a very young age, weekends were not for watching cartoons or sleepovers, we worked cleaning and for my grandmother, we constantly worked. Work ethic and a discipline was instilled in us from an early age. I had that inherent within me. This is heart work because you’re not in this to make the big bucks, you’re in this to change lives and in some instances save lives. And so, when that is presented in front of you, there really is no choice except to keep moving forward and to keep working it. And even when mistakes are made, to never give up.

And so, that is the discipline that we apply to ourselves and to keep us going and motivated that no matter what to keep going because even the organization itself is a successful thriving organization. We’ve really done a lot of really hard work in the past six years to change everything about the organization. But the organization lives hand to mouth too, funding is incredibly arduous for us and very fickle. And we’re always relying on the benevolence of others to change kids’ lives, to save lives. And believe it or not, a lot of people say no to us. Getting through that is the resilience that’s required of my team and myself is to have the resilience that even when you say no to me, you are going to say yes to me at some point.

I will knock down a brick wall. No means yes in my world, in my lexicon. And at some point, I will get a yes out of you, you will say yes to these kids. That’s the resilience that I require of myself and my staff. And then I play tennis six or seven days a week, and I’m a competitive tennis player. I captain teams, I compete. And that keeps me in this job and in this life and having my own hutzpah to make a difference.

Lisa Belisle:                          Well, I appreciate the work that you’re doing and the work that everybody at the My Place Teen Center is doing and I encourage people to learn more about My Place. And consider donating because if you don’t, Donna will find you and she will tell you more about her organization and you will be convinced, I’m certain of it.

Donna Dwyer:                     Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa Belisle:                          I appreciate you coming in today. I’ve been speaking with Donna Dwyer who is the CEO of the My Place Teen Center, a youth development program based in Westbrook. Thank you so much for all you do.

Donna Dwyer:                     We are thrilled and thank you so much for the opportunity.

Speaker 1:                              Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the old port at 154 Middle Street, the gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingen Jorgenson, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Cory, Jill hoy and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s old port where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                          You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 339. Our guests have included Debbie Irving and Donna Dwyer. For more information on our guests and extended interviews visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio, we welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are happy that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                              Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee, our editorial producer is Kate Gardner, our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassik. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy. And our executive producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #338: Lori Parham and Carolann Ouellette

Speaker 1:                              You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr.Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a physician and editor-in-chief of Maine, Maine Home and Design, Old Port, Ageless and Moxie Magazines. Love Maine Radio show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                          This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 338, airing for the first time on Sunday, March 11th, 2018. Today we speak with Lori Parham, State Director of AARP Maine. We also speak with Carolann Ouellette, Executive Director of Maine Huts and Trails who previously served as the Director of the Maine Office of Tourism. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                              Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of The Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                          Lori Parham is the AARP Maine’s State Director, leading the state’s advocacy and education efforts on health and financial security issues. She also oversees the organization’s efforts to engage cities and towns in creating livable communities for people of old ages with a specific focus on economic development and aging in place. Thanks for coming in today.

Lori Parham:                        It’s great to be here.

Lisa Belisle:                          I really love the work that you are doing with AARP because I think it’s a different approach than we typically see when we talk about longevity of life.

Lori Parham:                        Absolutely. We still have challenges when we talk about aging. There’s still a lot of assumptions around what it means to grow old or to be old, and even to talk about what that word means. At AARP and especially here in Maine we’re really working to change perceptions of aging and share the stories of people over 50 in the state who are doing amazing things.

Lisa Belisle:                          One of the interesting things for me having worked recently on our new Ageless Magazine is that people over the age of 50 are they’re not necessarily retired. They’re still working and in fact, a lot of people, my dad is 72, my mom is I think the same age, both of them are still actively working no less than they once were 20 years ago.

Lori Parham:                        That’s why we’re just AARP, we’re no longer the American Association of Retired Persons and we haven’t been for some time because a third of our members are still working. It’s not just folks between the ages of 50 and 64. We often hear people say, “I’m retiring at 65,” but as you said, people are working longer either because they really love being engaged and involved and want to and some because they don’t have a choice. They haven’t been able to put away enough for retirement and so they have to keep working in order to pay the bills and make sure that they will be secure in retirement.

Lisa Belisle:                          I’ve seen both of these things be true. I’ve seen both my parents be enthusiastically still teaching. My mom in middle school and my dad teaching medical students and residents and I ask them, “When are you going to retire?” They say, “Why? Why should I do that?” Then I also have had patients who have needed to either go back into the workforce or who have never been able to leave the workforce who are in their 70s and sometimes in their 80s. That leads to some interesting challenges though.

Lori Parham:                        It really does and we see both in Maine. Maine as the oldest state can really be a wonderful test case for aging and aging policy and workplace policy. We hear a lot of folks in Maine say, “We need to bring more young people to Maine.” I like to say AARP loves young people or members who have children, they have grandchildren, but there’s a lot of talent amongst people over 50. People between the ages of 50 and 64 are the largest growing age group of entrepreneurs and in Maine entrepreneurialism is so important and yet there is the demographic who is struggling. When we have surveyed older people in Maine a large number of them tell us they don’t know that they’ll ever be able to retire, that they will have to keep working.

Baby boomers have not saved the way they really needed to. Many people don’t understand that in retirement just to cover healthcare cost you need as much as $250,000 in savings. It’s really juggling the challenges that folks have but then also with that talking about the opportunities and the amazing things that people are doing. The fact that your dad is still teaching medical students, that’s such a wonderful thing especially in healthcare and there’s such a need.

Lisa Belisle:                          In addition to your undergraduate degree in sociology, you also have a masters in science and a PhD, so you are very well-versed in the academics of this. Why did you choose to focus your efforts on the aging community?

Lori Parham:                        I think in part because growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandmothers. My grandfathers both passed away very young and left families and one case with pretty young children. My grandmothers became fast friends and were part of my life from a very early age and I think I was comfortable around what was considered older people. As I looked into the issue surrounding aging and retirement, especially for women I just really became excited about the policy work and have been truly passionate about it ever since.

Lisa Belisle:                          Talk to me about some of the issues that women are facing.

Lori Parham:                        Well, a big one is caregiving. Men and women both care for aging parents but the majority of the work and this is unpaid work by daughters and wives and sisters is done by women. When you look at now especially with the aging of the baby boomers and if you look at Maine’s population, more and more women are falling into this category and as we project out there’s going to be more and more need. Often these women are also raising children. We call them the sandwich generation. They may have to leave the workforce in order to care for an aging parent which impacts their own ability to save to get those social security credits and to prepare for their own retirement. There are specific and special challenges as it relates to aging and long-term care for women as they care for others and then as they look at how they’re going to care for themselves.

That’s an area where we focus, also making sure that any caregiver has the resources they need. Where do you begin when something happens? Most of us don’t plan and then all of a sudden there’s a catastrophic event and how do we manage that. Then it ties into broader issues. We were talking about work, work and retirement, the ability to save, to find jobs that allow you to save. In Maine, we looked at some research to see how the folks in the state were saving and we’re way behind and not just amongst people over 50 but with our younger generations as well. There are a lot of issues, pretty intense policy issues to think about that hit a lot of sectors as we’re looking at what it means to grow old.

Lisa Belisle:                          Why is it that you think there is such resistance to a conversation about aging?

Lori Parham:                        It’s such a great question. Our CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins actually wrote a book and has really made it her mission to what she calls disrupt aging. The stereotypes go back a long way. When we think about pre-AARP, we’re 60 this year, the fact that older Americans really had no access to healthcare and retirement, medicare didn’t exist, [recast 00:09:10] historical stories about poor houses and where we placed older people. We’ve just really allowed those stereotypes to continue whether it’s actresses who are aged out of acting. The debate over gray hair or not. The assumptions that old means you’re walking around with a cane and can barely make it up the stairs. Yet you see how that’s just not necessarily the case but it takes … It’s language, it’s attitude, it’s education. It’s a constant effort to try to change the way we think about it. I get all the time, “Oh, I don’t feel old. You’re AARP, 50, really? For us age is just a number.” Our founder was 73 when she founded this great organization, but it’s not easy, it’s a constant battle.

Lisa Belisle:                          It’s interesting to me that in this day and age we are more aware of people of different nationalities, we’re more aware of gender and not discriminating against people based on that, sexual orientation, I mean, the list goes on our awareness of all these things that we don’t want to be considered ist. We don’t want to be racist, for example. Isn’t not having an openness about people who are older, isn’t that just ageist? Isn’t that just another group for us to discriminate against?

Lori Parham:                        It is. It is, and it’s been fun through our work on disrupting aging, and Jo Ann, she decided to tackle this because I think she saw the potential across everything else we work on. We’ve got a wonderful video of millennials showing what they think it means to be old and the basic walking with a cane and then they bring in to each one of these individuals an older person who is a dancer or a boxer and these are folks in their 70s, 80s and 90s and just to see the light bulb go off for these young people was pretty amazing. It’s really going to take I think an ongoing concerted effort. We hear a lot about how baby boomers are really going to change these perceptions but when they’re all around you, radio, TV, ad campaigns, it’s going to take a concerted effort I think across sectors to really see change.

Lisa Belisle:                          Why is aging in place important?

Lori Parham:                        First and foremost, we know that’s where people want to be and when we say aging in place we mean at home and in the community. As folks grow older, if they have a choice between institutional care and the community they love, they want to be in the community even if they can’t be in their own home, they want to be right there. Especially in Maine where community is so important. It’s what people want. It also is good for local economies. The longer people stay at home and in the communities they love, the more they’re involved and active in civic life and social life. They’re spending money in their communities. My grandmother who I lost just a year ago, if she didn’t get her hair done every week, that was the most important thing and that was helping a local business and there are a lot of folks like her.

It really does help build that sense of community. Social participation is so important. We have new research out of our foundation that shows the social isolation really can decrease longevity and that that’s so important for people to be connected. Being able to spend those last years your final years at a place that is safe but connected is just really important to people.

Lisa Belisle:                          I absolutely have seen this as a doctor, the patients that come in to see me who don’t have close family members, who may be have moved to the community relatively recently don’t have close friends, the loneliness that they feel it absolutely impacts not only their emotional and psychological health but their physical health. It has this far-reaching implication that I think it’s important for us to address.

Lori Parham:                        Absolutely, isolation is the leading cause for dementia as well and we hear from people. We have started hosting social events, coffees and happy hours to help bring people together and the number of folks who’ve said, “I just moved here,” or, “I just retired, I’m having to build a new network and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to meet other people like me,” and we’re seeing friendships develop and more interest in taking those activities even further. We’re doing what we can to help build the social connections where we can because no one should age alone.

Lisa Belisle:                          Talk to me about age-friendly communities. What types of things would such a community offer to someone who is attempting to age in place?

Lori Parham:                        The work that we’re doing in the age-friendly space is really situated around multiple domains of livability we call them. Everything from affordable housing and not just low income housing but middle income housing and also housing that’s accessible that’s near services. You think of Maine and how rural we are and how difficult it could be for an older person who’s way down along the road in a big rambling farmhouse, that doesn’t make it very easy to be connected. Transportation which ties into that, the ability to get around when you should no longer be driving and access to, if you’re in a very rural area and you don’t have the services that a metro would provide, ways to get places whether it’s through a volunteer program or other. Social participation, what are the kinds of activities that a community has to bring people together.

I should emphasize that an age-friendly community isn’t just for, “older people.” Our view is that the kinds of services and support you put into place for someone over 50 or over 65 is just as good for young family. If you think about public spaces and parks and playgrounds and trails and exercise equipment, if you think about sidewalks, making sure the snow is cleared in the winter, that’s good for an older person who may walk with a cane or just walk more slowly or have a little trouble with balance but it’s good for a young mother who’s also carrying one child and pushing a stroller.

Civic engagement and employment, whether it’s mentoring or recognizing the value that people over 50 bring to the workforce and looking at policies and programs that support the 50 plus worker who may be caregiving for example so flexible work arrangements, telecommuting, looking at different types of leave that support a caregiver who may need to take time off. It’s really a range of policies. We like to talk about broadband and how disconnected a lot of Maine is, that’s another important issue that really come together to make a community more age-friendly. Of course, if you’re Portland, it’s going to look different than it will in Bethel or Skowhegan and so you’ve got to take in account the close community ties as well.

Lisa Belisle:                          Are there benefits to having multiple generations interacting on a regular basis?

Lori Parham:                        We see in some of the programs that we’re seeing across the country, we’ll take the workplace for example, there’s been some good research that shows a multi generational workforce is good for business. There’s a good return on investment because you have different attitudes, different approaches, the ability for people to mentor, older people to mentor younger. Also, vice verse. Let’s think about technology. Also, we see that in the area of social isolation and connectedness too. There’s a real movement to think about housing and supports community where you could have an after school program tied to a community center where retirees may go for art classes.

Also, looking at how the two generations can mentor each other outside of the workforce. We’ve got this great program going on in Augusta where the age-friendly committee, all retirees, is working with the girls and boys club teaching them sewing. This is a skill that they’re using to sew hats and gloves and scarves for people who need an extra layer in the winter. Whether or not this group of kids ends up taking on sewing as a career, it’s a skill, it’s tactical, it’s a place to focus energy and through that time together they’re connecting with folks they may not have otherwise connected with. Hearing their stories, maybe getting a little bit of advice.

Lisa Belisle:                          You mentioned that you have a comfort level with people who are older starting with your grandmothers when you were a child, why is it that some people don’t have a comfort with older people?

Lori Parham:                        That’s a really good question. It could be that they never had the opportunity like I did to spend time around people who are older. I think there can be some fear. It can be difficult to watch people grow old especially if they have chronic health issues, that can be scary, I’m just going to say that. It can be easier to avoid that. While any of us can be impacted at any age, we tend to associate old age with end of life and that’s part of I think looking at how we can reframe that. That just because you’re growing older doesn’t mean your life is ending. What I love about Ageless Maine is the opportunity to profile some of these people in Maine who may be 70, 80, 90 but are still active or engaged in giving back. When you can spend time with them I think some of that fear goes away.

Lisa Belisle:                          I actually found when I was working on Ageless Maine with the rest of the editorial team that there were many people that we were talking about that were probably healthier than a lot of people who are far younger because they were so engaged and they were so passionate about the things that they were doing. Whether it was the woman that I wrote about for the wearable technology story or whether it was the woodchuck story that Susan Axelrod wrote. I think it’s often said that age is just a state of mind. I’m not sure that’s exactly true but I certainly do believe that there’s a way that we can look at things that influences the way that we live.

Lori Parham:                        I would agree and the woodchuck and that was just such a lovely story. Think about the social connectedness there. These gentlemen are physically active in state and then a community they clearly love, they’re doing this work together. We also know the benefits of volunteering, they’re doing something for other people. You put those together and that’s a really good combination for longevity. Sometimes I think I’m probably healthier now than I was when I was 20 or probably even 30 and I think sometimes it takes a little time to recognize how to prioritize and where to focus. Sadly, there are folks who are older who really are struggling with chronic illness and disease. Then there’s also the question of what are the policies, what can be done to make sure that those patients you see can get some relief and that we can start to address some of those issues sooner in Maine and frankly across the country.

Lisa Belisle:                          That is an important point that aging can really manifest itself in many different ways so I think because a lot of older people when they’re feeling healthy they don’t come to the doctor. I will see older people who come to see me and they will often say it is very difficult to get old. It is really hard because it seems like one thing after another, after another. They feel as if their bodies are failing them. It can be very expensive. They spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices. I agree that trying to find a way to support them through all of this is going to present different challenges than it might if it was a younger person accessing the healthcare system. What can we do specifically in healthcare to help people who are trying to work through aging?

Lori Parham:                        We hear a lot about prevention and when I talk about Medicare to folks in the community and to our members and the importance of insuring that people are going to the doctor, that they are getting that primary care, the more we do to stave off diabetes for example which cost the Medicare program billions of dollars then that’s going to help the sustainability of the program which will invest more dollars into those preventative measures. It’s the healthcare component and boy, that could be a conversation for multiple hours but that’s why we’re also looking at the community component. Health and supportive services are one of the domains that we look at in communities. Outside of government programs depending on what you have for insurance, that can be very expensive. What can you be doing and what can a community offer through public spaces and parks.

I love that our colleagues in Bethel have an indoor walking program in winter for older people to make sure that they’re still getting exercise. We decided to host a Tai chi class because we had a volunteer willing to teach it and we’re amazed at how many people came out. There are a lot of no cost, low cost things that communities can do to offer and granted that’s just the wellness piece. It’s not going to solve all of the problems but there’s a lot of great research out there that says if you get up and you move, if you’re a little more thoughtful about what you eat, if you get up and you move but you do it with a friend in terms of your mental health that that could have a really positive impact on a longer life and a healthier life.

Lisa Belisle:                          Obviously there are a lot of different places that you could focus because this is an enormous topic. What is one thing that you would like to see changed as regards to aging?

Lori Parham:                        Goodness. There’s enough out there that I should be able to work for a very long time. I love the work that we’re doing in communities because it’s bigger than just healthcare. As I look at the aging of Maine, as I hear debates about Maine’s economy and what the state needs, I continue and really believe not just because I work for AARP to make the case that people over 50 are hugely important to Maine and the economy. We’ve done some work with Oxford Economics nationally on the longevity economy and this is the purchasing power and the GDP of people over 50. They’re buying more in tech believe it or not. They pay more in healthcare. They give back more charitably. They’re paying more in taxes.

That age group is hugely important. Their children are the millennials and research shows that they want a lot of the same things. Access to be able to walk to where you want to go, public spaces, cultural activities, music. When I think about this body of work, if we can get out of a mindset that it’s just about older people, that it can turn some people off in some sectors. We talk about how that infrastructure can then impact the next generation and the next generation. I think that makes for a really exciting future of Maine. There are so many issues to tackle and we’ll continue to work on all of them but I’m really excited about this work because it involves people in community and it showcases how deeply people care about where they live.

Lisa Belisle:                          I’ve been speaking with Lori Parham who is the AARP Maine’s State Director leading the state’s advocacy and education efforts on health and financial security issues. She also oversees the organization’s efforts to engage cities and towns in creating livable communities for people of old ages with a specific focus on economic development and aging in place. Thank you so much for the work you’re doing and for coming in today.

Lori Parham:                        It’s great talking with you.

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Lisa Belisle:                          Carolann Ouellette joined Maine Huts and Trails as Executive Director in January of 2017 and she previously served as Director at the Maine Office of Tourism. Thanks for coming in.

Carolann O.:                         Thanks so much for having me. This is great.

Lisa Belisle:                          I think they were pretty sad to see you go from the Maine Office of Tourism from what I understand.

Carolann O.:                         That’s always nice to have a legacy like that. Certainly, it was an amazing opportunity for me and an incredible team, everything from the internal team to all the people in the industry across the state and even the people that we worked with under contract, just really creative, energetic, passionate people about Maine which was made it so much fun.

Lisa Belisle:                          What I guess convinced you that you should jump over to Maine Huts and Trails?

Carolann O.:                         That’s a great question. I give lot of the credit of the convincing to quite honestly our board chair, Bob Peixotto who spent quite a bit of time talking to me about Maine Huts and Trails and the opportunities, and the place in which it sits now as having been really open to the public for 10 years but it was really for me a love of that whole western mountains region of Maine. I’ve been a resident of Jackman for almost 30 years with a few stints in Millinocket and Sugarloaf, but that’s always Maine holds a special place overall but that kind of area from the New Hampshire border up across from Moosehead and out towards Millinocket has always held a very special spot in my heart.

It was a big of a challenge to take an opportunity of really taking all that I had learned from the marketing perspective, the connectivity, all the networking, all the people that I had met at my time at the office of tourism and really kind of put almost theory into practice. Taking bits and pieces of experiences throughout my lifetime, everything from the time at Cornell, at the hotel school through working for Matt Polstein at New England Outdoor Center, running my own restaurant, there were all these tidbits of experiences that really covered everything that is Maine Huts and Trails with some new challenges on top of it.

Lisa Belisle:                          I want to ask you about the new challenges but first I’m interested in why you decided that you want to go to Cornell, to the school of hotel administration.

Carolann O.:                         I was looking at a few schools. It really ended up being fortuitous in the sense that I originally wanted to follow my dad’s footsteps and be a pilot. That just wasn’t working out the way I had planned originally in high school. I got my license but didn’t go a whole lot further. Cornell, it had a lot of allure just from the size of the school itself. Obviously, I was fortunate to be accepted to an Ivy League school but it was one of the ones that had in my mind the broader diversity across the different campuses and the different colleges within the university. I didn’t originally go for the hotel school. I wanted to do international relations and economics and discovered a lot of freshmen, fellow freshmen that were in the hotel administration program and I just thought, “Wow, that is a really, really fascinating career path to be able to follow,” and what better place. Again, really fortuitous.

Lisa Belisle:                          That’s interesting. When you’re a freshman in that program, what types of classes are you taking?

Carolann O.:                         I wasn’t able to transfer until my sophomore year and you start out with a pretty broad range of curriculum. It had everything from early on. We had a food science course. We had intro to food preparation. We had intro to marketing classes. We had psychology classes. Intro to accounting and finance. We covered things I think in my first year even you had an intro to hotel design and engineering. You had real estate courses. You had almost three years of on and off engineering and design. You had a lot of management courses that’s why the psychology and how to manage people and how to build teams there was an incredible amount around the food piece as well but most of it was really and a lot around the marketing HR. Again, how to manage people. Real estate, quite a bit in real estate and finance and because it was so multi disciplinary, you really had a broad base to come out of there recognizing you could specialize or you could go into the broader field itself. We were required to do a number of humanities courses and then throughout the time, summers were spent really trying to make sure that you are finding jobs inside the industry.

Lisa Belisle:                          Where did you grow up?

Carolann O.:                         I grew up in New Jersey.

Lisa Belisle:                          When you’re growing up, did you think, “Oh, I think I’d like to go into this field,” or did you think, “I’m going to be a pilot like my dad”?

Carolann O.:                         No, I pretty much figured I would try and fly like my dad. I wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to somehow be engaged in travel tourism, something like that. The international relation sort of economics piece I felt coming out of high school was a way to open up the opportunity to travel. That has always been my first love and I really did not anticipate, I didn’t consider myself a people person necessarily. The whole concept of hotel administration hospitality and all of that seemed a little bit outside of who I was as an individual. Again, it was one of those pathways that in so many respects just hit so many passion points for me. It was just one of those places and times where the fact that I ended up at Cornell and that was the home of the school of hotel administration was just a remarkable opportunity.

Lisa Belisle:                          It’s such an interesting contrast to say I’m not a people person and then do the work that you do. All the things that you just described they require so much time with people.

Carolann O.:                         They do.

Lisa Belisle:                          Have you developed into a people person or you’ve just decided, “You know what? I probably always was a people person,” and just not necessarily like super extrovert.

Carolann O.:                         I think that describes it really quite well. I have grown in so many different ways over the course of time. Primarily because of the different experiences professionally that I’ve had through my lifetime and really it’s interesting even when I graduated from Cornell I still wasn’t necessarily a people person. My love at the point of graduation was really back at the house on the food and beverage side of things. I followed that a little bit but not until much later when I had my own restaurant but it’s still was something I gravitated more to sort of behind the scenes than I did out front. The juxtaposition really came when I ended up at the Office of Tourism and that primarily started as behind the scenes in essence hiring, I was hired as deputy director really to support all the activities of the office and the director herself.

When the director position was offered to me, obviously it was something I was not going to turn down but it really stepped up my ability to interact with people on a regular basis, be out in front of people and really change that dynamic. I think basically I’ve been good with networking over my years of where I’ve been and what I’ve done and a lot of what I had done I pushed myself to be in that landscape so that I’d see opportunity and have new projects ahead and just one thing lead to another. I’ve certainly had a chance to grow at each position that I’ve held and that’s been so rewarding from a lifestyle perspective.

Lisa Belisle:                          How did you go from being, I don’t know where you lived in New Jersey, I know there’s some wilderness in New Jersey but not a ton but to somebody who really loves Jackman and Millinocket and western Maine and really not as populated areas where you came from.

Carolann O.:                         That’s certainly true and it’s interesting. My family, I really have had the best of so many worlds because my grandparents own a business in New York City so we spent a lot of time as children, the special events, birthdays, everything else going to theater, doing a lot of fun museum hopping all the way around to the cultural experience of New York City and what it has to offer. We did live towards the western, north western side of New Jersey so out towards the Delaware Water Gap and spent a lot of time in the outdoors as children. My grandparents had a weekend as it turned out to be a retirement place that was 60 plus acres of tree farm. I remember growing up with Audubon and nature conservancy magazines across the coffee tables. It was really a love of the outdoors.

They originally went with friends from New York to a place in Jackman in the 50s called Attean Lake Lodge. My mother then took us as children and that was the first place really that I ended up working because I love the whole concept of being on an island in a lake. Very remote. Quite pampered I would say from the style of service and guest experience but really just being able to escape and I think that goes that’s a little bit of that counter yes I’m a people person but I also love the solitude and wonderful openness of the wilderness or the Maine woods. It’s not even necessarily wilderness but just being out in the natural landscape.

Lisa Belisle:                          That’s actually what Maine Huts and Trails offers, isn’t it? That you have the wilderness.

Carolann O.:                         Right.

Lisa Belisle:                          Then you also offer a place where people can be, can stay and there’s usually other people there. It is that contrast, that juxtaposition.

Carolann O.:                         It is and I think that’s what makes Maine Huts and Trails fairly special in what that guest experience becomes and it’s different for different people but it really is the opportunity to be in the outdoors. Push yourself a little bit if you’d like to depending upon your skill level but recognizing that you’ve got a bit of support in the sense that you’re on marked trails, you’re getting a back country experience without necessarily having to worry too much about where you’re headed and what you’re doing because at the end of the day you’re headed for one of the huts. Huts we’ve often internally it’s a bit of a misnomer, more of a wilderness lodge. When you get to the lodge you can either find your own personal space or there’s just an incredible sense of camaraderie when you’re inside where other people are joining you.

It’s a family style meal service. You’re getting to know the hut staff that live there. There’s a lot of personal interaction. Often we hear stories of families that have met at the huts and continue then to either return as a trip to the special place that they met and or even spend time together in their regular lives outside of Maine Huts and Trails. It is very much a time to really be with yourself, disconnect, yet at the same time spend time with new friends, family, and loved ones.

Lisa Belisle:                          There’s been a lot of growth over the last several years with Maine Huts and Trails from what I understand.

Carolann O.:                         There has. It’s interesting, this year in, if I’m not mistaken about two weeks will be the 10th anniversary of the opening of the first hut which was the Poplar Stream Hut. The first three were built fairly quickly one right after the other so Poplar Stream then Flagstaff Hut not long thereafter. Then the Grand Falls Hut which is out on the Dead River. Then the last hut that was built was open about four years ago, so Stratton Brook. Really it was a pretty fast track in getting those four up and the trail connectivity all laid out. It’s really been about building the visitation and also building on the mission and the long range goals around the environmental stewardship and bringing young people into the outdoors and getting them to understand conservation and how important all that is to the landscape. Right now we’re 10 years in. What’s next? That was really one of the exciting parts about the attractiveness of the opportunity really is being able to play a role in where it goes from here.

Lisa Belisle:                          That’s a very different role than the beginning of an organization. In the beginning it’s kind of entrepreneurial, it’s hit the ground running, it’s let’s see what we can … I guess it’s a younger organization.

Carolann O.:                         Right.

Lisa Belisle:                          Ten years in it’s a more mature organization so it’s almost as if it’s two different things that you’re dealing with.

Carolann O.:                         That’s really interesting. It is different in the sense of yeah everything is go, go, go, modeling it out, figuring out what’s going to work. Particularly as I’m learning because the non-profit world is new to me so that hence one of the challenges, that’s something I have not done in my past, working with funders, figuring out how this is all going to play out. I think of Dave Herring and I had met many of the founder and some of the founding board members and Dave Herring when he was the first executive director. I start at the Office of Tourism about the same time they opened Poplar hut but 10 years, interesting I’ve learned life cycles of non-profits so 10 years can almost be viewed as yes we have some maturity. We’ve got brand recognition, people, there is continuation of those that have been so supportive of us through that whole time and then there’s the next generation.

Not next generation necessarily in people but next iteration of the model and how do we … Is the original model, there’s conversations we have at different levels, is the original model the linear huts and trail system 10 years later? Is that still a model? Looking at connectivity, communities, what else is across the landscape, what’s changed in the 10 years from the time that we opened our doors at Poplar and even the concept goes back so much further than that. Larry Warren’s initial vision, building the support to even bring it to reality. Yes, more entrepreneurial probably in its beginnings at the inception but still now at a point of really having an opportunity to move it into the next generation.

Lisa Belisle:                          What are some of the challenges?

Carolann O.:                         Some of the challenges personally for me is just understanding how the non-profit world works versus I mean I’ve done four profit, I’ve done public service and the non-profit piece I really I think as I learn how it all plays together is it’s sometimes it’s just different terminology than the four profit world. You have so many of the donors and funders and supporters, I suppose you could look at it in some respects as investors but at certainly very different expectation at the end. It’s meeting a whole new network of people. Really the people that I had some interaction with just at the Office of Tourism recognizing that we do have non-profits inside the state of Maine that are also providing guest experiences.

There were some crossover but really not as much knowledge as I thought I might have moving into it. I had the guest experience piece and the travel and tourism piece and the marketing pieces in place but really learning how do you … The process of having members, the process of working regularly with all the different people who have made commitments and are personally really invested in the organization and the foundations that support us. It’s a really broad network of people that help make a non-profit run and so that’s been a wonderful learning curve for me.

Lisa Belisle:                          I remember that Dave Herring was probably one of our early guest.

Carolann O.:                         Great.

Lisa Belisle:                          Long time ago and now I believe he’s at Wolfe Neck.

Carolann O.:                         Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                          He’s doing good work over there.

Carolann O.:                         Amazing.

Lisa Belisle:                          He was young and enthusiastic and you could just see him like out on the trails. I think he had a small child at that time.

Carolann O.:                         He did, yes.

Lisa Belisle:                          He just embodied this wilderness, this vision of wilderness. You have your own version of that. In addition to being the executive director, you’re also a very outdoorsy person like this is a place that you love to be.

Carolann O.:                         I think that was one of the other things that attracted me to the position is at the Office of Tourism it’s funny there have been different times the Office of Tourism was an opportunity to learn the broad landscape. I mean, I got to go pretty much almost every place in Maine. I got to meet an incredible breath of individuals that are providing guest experiences across the landscape. On top of that, it actually enabled me to learn more at the national level. It provided me with the opportunity. We become part of the National Council of State Tourism Directors so you’re learning from colleagues across all 50 states. We’re part of the U.S. Travel Association so learning at the national scale what’s driving travel and tourism, what is important from a policy perspective along with what’s really important from a market destination, marketing perspective, what’s trending.

I’ve always loved to be in the outdoors and a lot of that started early as we mentioned but it really came into play the Attean Lake Lodge piece certainly just wondering and exploring on my own but working for Matt Polstein at New England Outdoor Center in many ways has been such a mentor. Recognizing that there’s business that can be done as part of a passion related to the outdoors and outdoor recreation and providing a truly unique guest experience in a place where people may not have considered visiting at other times. I mean, the fascination about the Maine woods for me is the balance of the working forest landscape, the traditions when you think of Fly Rod Crosby, the Registered Maine Guide, those traditional sports that came from afar really into the north Maine woods guided through all kind of different experiences. To be able to carry on that tradition yet do it as the trends evolve and guest experiences and expectations evolve and continue to play that out is really, really a fascinating component.

Lisa Belisle:                          From what I understand, you can take advantage of Maine Huts and Trails really anytime of the year. Even in the deepest, coldest, darkest part of winter you actually encourage people to go out there and participate.

Carolann O.:                         We do. It’s about embracing winter, that’s a big piece and honestly Maine Huts and Trails if I’m not mistaken really started more as a back country winter experience. The idea was to develop this trail network that provided for a cross-country ski, I think initially more or less a cross-country ski experience from hut to hut based on many of the European models as you see them across the landscape. It’s interesting how it evolved in recognizing the growth in outdoor recreation overall. Really, people’s move to healthier lifestyles and using the outdoors as a way to really live better I think in many respects and the recognition also was to be a sustainable organization or work towards that at some point in time doing just three months a year where you’ve got some pretty remarkable structures out there and people who really want to work and be part of that wasn’t going to be necessarily as viable as if you became year-round.

They started as cross-country skiing but as I back up and think about the mission, the original mission and it still holds true today is really to be a year-round outdoor recreation resource of national significance. It was intended to be year-round but it started with the winter piece first. Over the years considerable investment has been placed into the sustainability of the trails themselves. Winter, it’s great, you’re on snow so you’re not impacting the landscape as much as when you start hiking and biking and doing other things through the trail network. The investment has been really about build out but also surface areas and drainage and making sure that that trail system is really very solid for the long-term.

Lisa Belisle:                          It seems as though you would need to continue to have conversations with multiple different players in this. I mean, we have in the winter we have snowmobilers, we have cross-country skiers, the fat tire bikers are out pretty much all year-round. I mean, everybody’s got slightly different take on what it means to have a nice trail.

Carolann O.:                         I think that’s probably true. I mean, for us, we’re focused on the people-powered recreation. We have certainly our trails managers, Savannah Steele and the trails manager ahead of her, Jason Cooke spent time really working with all the user groups even where we intersect with the snowmobile trails or the ATV trails. Just understanding that we’re all playing across the same area but the different user groups, it’s interesting. I think it’s more about the passion and being in the outdoors and following the pursuit that you love best but recognizing that we’re all in it together and we just want to be out there having fun. We see multiple users across the system particular as you mention in non-winter and even now in winter the fat tire piece has just grown dramatically.

A lot of investment has been made not just by us but also by the town of Carrabassett Valley, the Carrabassett region doing the mountain biking association club, Sugarloaf, we’re all in a group together called Carrabassett Valley Trails which is pooling resources to expand the mountain biking system. Looking again at that summer primarily because the area has been known back to winter the area has been known as a winter destination. How do you become more year-round as a region as well. It’s fun to see when you’re out there you’ll have a family that’s snowshoeing, you’ve got some cross-country skiers coming by. We lay track in the winter. The other day we had 20 fat bikers coming through the system from Stratton Brook to Poplar so it actually when you get to the hut you’ve got all these different people interacting that have come to the hut by different modes of people-powered activity but they just love being in the outdoors.

Lisa Belisle:                          You’ve been doing this for a little more than a year now.

Carolann O.:                         Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                          Hopefully, you’ll be doing it for many years to come but what are you looking forward to the most in this year?

Carolann O.:                         In this year, that’s a good question. It’s funny, the first year has been so much of a learning absorption period. I think if anything for me personally I’m looking forward to actually moving into the what’s next phase rather than just learning and I’ll always be learning so I should take that back. For me, I’d like a personal thing at training that I told the hut staff that we do a three to four day training with new hut staff each season. One of the things was I definitely wanted to spend more time with them out on the trails and in the huts so again, less time out there figuring out who all the players are and how I need to interact with a lot of new different people but also being able to actually participate in the activities, they are so much a part of who we are.

The other piece for me is getting to know those that have been such strong supporters of the organization throughout its 10 years plus at this point. I still have a lot of introductions and people to meet and stories to hear and stories to tell. The next year will really be more about that than anything. I was able to do some of that in the first year. It was so much shepherding from our board and other people that are very, very active in the organization but then there’s so many people still that I haven’t met that have been very engaged over 10 plus years that are either regular guest or regular members or fairly sizable supporters. That’s going to be really important to me and really starting to lay out what the next steps are.

Lisa Belisle:                          I’ve been speaking with Carolann Ouellette who joined Maine Huts and Trails as Executive Director in January of 2017 and previously served at the Director of Maine Office of Tourism. Thank you very much for coming in and having this conversation today.

Carolann O.:                         Thank you so much. I really appreciate it, Lisa.

Speaker 1:                              Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of The Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                          You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 338. Our guests have included Lori Parham and Carolann Ouellette. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

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Transcription of Love Maine Radio #337: Hannah Cooke and Tracy Guerrette

Speaker 1:                              You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr.Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                          This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 337, airing for the first time on Sunday, March 4th, 2018. Today we speak with Athlete and Portland resident, Hannah Cooke, founder of the Bowdoin Athletes of Coalition of Bowdoin College, and elite runner, Tracy Guerrette winner of last year’s Maine Marathon, who hopes to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                              Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of The Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                          Bowdoin College student, Hannah Cooke, is the founder of the Bowdoin Athletes of Color Coalition, which brings together student athletes of color to discuss their experiences of playing sports. Thanks for coming in today.

Hannah Cooke:                   Thank you for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                          At least for today, this is not a long travel for you because you were born and raised in the city.

Hannah Cooke:                   No. It should’ve probably been shorter if I could find parking.

Lisa Belisle:                          Yes. Yeah. Well, the whole snow thing is kind of throwing us off a little bit.

Hannah Cooke:                   Absolutely.

Lisa Belisle:                          Yeah. But you lived in Maine a long time, so you know it’s like snow on the city streets. Right?

Hannah Cooke:                   Oh, absolutely. But I did live mostly outside of the city growing up, so snow in the streets was not as much of a problem because we had driveways. But yeah, snow is definitely a problem.

Lisa Belisle:                          Tell me about that. Tell me about growing up here in Maine.

Hannah Cooke:                   Well, so to be honest, now going to Bowdoin, I’ve thought way more about my experience growing up in Maine. I grew up kind of like North Deering area, so kind of like suburbia, very predominantly white. And for most of my education career, childhood, I was one of the few people … One of the only people of color in my class. Until middle school, I think I was the only one. And growing up, I don’t think that had at first really made a huge … I wasn’t thinking about it, really. I think the first time that I actually thought about being different was when I was in the third grade. We were playing man hunt or something and I remember there was a comment made about me being a person of color and not wanting me on a specific team. And I was pretty shocked because I had never even thought about how my race would be significant in any kind of way. I didn’t even really think about being different.

And I think that the response from a lot of the kids, for not knowing much about race, was, “What? That sounds crazy.” But no one really knew how to articulate anything. And that experience for me was the first time I started to think about my race growing up because I did live in such a white neighborhood, and my family is biracial, so my mom is also from rural Maine and my dad’s from Jamaica, so it’s a very interesting cultural mix within my house. But then I didn’t realize how different that was comparatively.

But I think growing up for me, actually sports became a place for me to kind of move beyond what I think now was a feeling of a little bit being different in a lot of ways. And it was a place where there was no talk that could really … It’s hard to explain. I still try to articulate it. A lot of my actual academic career has been me soul searching to understand my childhood and how I’ve gotten to the place where I am. But I think that I had a tough time fitting in with my neighborhood, and not just because of my race. But I do think just like culturally, coming from the family I did, was extremely open minded. And not to say that other people were not open minded, but I don’t think there was a recognition of what it meant to be a person of … Like a woman of color too, like a girl who was black in a white space, which in our gender has such a role in it too, and how that influences how you’re perceived.

And again, not articulating this at that age growing up. But I think that sports was a place for me to kind of feel like nothing else beyond my feeling of almost otherness at times really mattered. There’s nothing someone could say that could take away from me beating them, so I became extremely, extremely competitive. And I was always competitive, but I think that sports was a very special space for me growing up to kind of move beyond all those other things and find a kind of way to empower myself by working hard and then being successful, and then having that it became a big part of my identity. But that also did change a lot when I went to school. But yeah, I think growing up in Maine, though, was a great experience, very safe and certainly a lot of communities, different communities that I felt very a part of, and a lot of them were connected to sports I think.

Another thing I think about, I played basketball and soccer growing up, and soccer is a completely different demographic of people compared to basketball. And I think that I ended up choosing basketball, actually, and I was pretty successful at both of them, and very competitive with both. But when I got older, I started to feel a little bit more like basketball was the sport that I loved more, but now when I look back, I feel like basketball was actually a space where I just felt more connected with the people who I was playing with. And through my independent research project, which was on race and gender in American sports specifically, and that really focused on culture of sports and how that culture is a reflection of class attitudes and where people are coming from with their experiences outside to it. They bring in those values and that creates a kind of culture and expectations on a different team. And I felt, I think, more connected because there were so many people of color playing basketball, especially in Portland where there actually is. Those communities do exist more than outside of Portland.

And so that, in my mind I chose basketball because that’s what I wanted to play. But I think so much more of it had to do with the people that I was surrounded by and how I felt just a little bit more like I could connect with people on a different way that I didn’t always have growing up a lot younger in my community. But I definitely lived a privileged life and I’m very grateful for all that I had growing up. But when you’re forced to think about who you become and how your life experiences did shape you, I think that I certainly was shaped by being one of the few people and few girls of colors especially, in my class growing up.

Lisa Belisle:                          What was your intention when you founded the Bowdoin Athletes of Color Coalition? What were you trying to do?

Hannah Cooke:                   I’m not exactly positive I knew what I was trying to do. It was kind of a variety of things that kind of came together at the right time. One of my best friends was a leader on our student athletic committee and she’d heard about this program that Tufts was doing, which is an athletes of color group as well. And it was at the same time I was doing my research project and really engaging with these issues at a much deeper level. And then I started, because of my research project, thinking about again how sports had influenced my own life growing up and what kind of purpose it had served for me, and then how that purpose … It changes the whole demographic of who you are teammates with, and who that community is changes when you get to college, especially at an elite institution such as Bowdoin, where’s there’s probably a smaller proportion of even people of color on the athletic teams, which is ironic considering most people … Across the nation, a lot of people of color do play sports, even in Maine. But also, Bowdoin is 90% from out of state.

So I was curious as to how that change in demographic changed people’s experiences, how it changed the culture of the sport, because my research prior had said to me that basically all of those different intersecting identities had contributed to creating a particular culture, and that had attracted me to it. But then what happens when that culture changes for other people too? Like for myself, I was like, my freshman year I was the only person of color on my basketball team, which was one of the first times that had ever happened to me, even being someone from Maine. So I thought, “Well, how does that change how the culture had been created on my college team?” And was that significant in any way? And then I thought. Well, my change, being from someone who’s very familiar with predominantly white places and communities, I thought that if there was any … Like, I had thought about it being challenging in different ways for me, then for someone who is going to an even more different in significant ways, the demographics team for example.

I had a friend who was from Georgia and played soccer. And he was on a team that was almost all black and now he’s on a team that’s almost all white. So how does that change his experience or their experience because it’s such an intimate space? And you work your whole life, a lot of people do in college, to be good at that one place. And you have a particular kind of community that you’re used to supporting you or being around and having those relationships. And a team, you don’t choose your relationships. And a lot of times we get so lucky to meet the people that we do. But it’s also, you don’t choose those people who are on your team. They’re chosen for you. So it changes the dynamics of the relationships, and I wanted to see if that had any impact on how people adapted to not only a new school, which has an entirely different culture in itself, but then also a team where you spend so much time and a lot of intimate relationships are formed. Like, how did that influence how those relationships were formed? And how people dealt with challenges.

I know there are a lot of affinity groups at Bowdoin and I had been to some of the meetings and realized that it was the way that sometimes conflict was dealt with, whatever kind of where that falls on the spectrum of microaggression to macroaggressions. But a lot of times it’s easier for other people to just avoid the situation or to just not be friends with people who kind of rub them the wrong way. And that is just not the same with being on a team. And that’s a beautiful opportunity to help people learn and to coexist with people who you’re not used to being around, but it also requires a different way to deal with conflict. And sometimes that can be challenging and isolating if you’re on a team that is so different than what you’re used to being on.

And the same thing with coaches, having coaches that come from different places, different people to look up to, or who understand or perceive you and how you act just differently. And I never really think that it’s a malicious thing. I think that at Bowdoin, across the board there is so much willingness and very little malicious intent that ever happens when adversity arises. But at the same time, that is not an excuse to not learn from things that do make other people feel other and different and isolated at times. So I knew that if I, again, was having some kind of experience that was challenging to me, especially coupled with trying to learn so much about my history and America’s history, a part of America’s history, which I feel like is not taught in schools until you seek it out, like college. I did not go into college thinking I was going to be in Africana studies as one of my majors.

And as I took a couple, I took one class my advisor begged me to because I said I might be interested in it. And from then, I’ve just been … It’s had such an impact on my life because I feel like there’s so much more that I know about not only myself, but about other people and how they interpret and perceive other people and other situations and different communities that they’re not necessarily from. So with that, just a perfect storm. And I decided that I was going to talk to the athletic director about starting some kind of group to get people to perhaps explore and self reflect on their own experiences. And that’s initially how it began, and then I got a lot of great feedback from people who started to join the group. And then I knew it was important because so many people had expressed that this was a space that they didn’t know that they needed, as I don’t think I did initially, but then was very valuable to have to kind of throw out feelings that you’ve had or questions about certain experiences that you’re not necessarily sure how to articulate in that moment, or even long term.

And sometimes you look back and you’re just like, “Okay. I actually think that this has had an impact on me. I would like to change X, Y, and Z.” And then to have a group of people who can share those experiences or relate to them is really meaningful and not feeling kind of that whole sense of otherness. And from there, working with the athletic director and creating programs and initiatives to work on making those feelings happen less and to get teams and coaches and individuals just more self aware of how they create culture on their team and how they create those relationships and how to recognize that maybe you are an athlete on the court, on the fields, on the rink, wherever it may be. But you’re still, your identity as a person of color doesn’t change. Same with gender, that has to do with it. It doesn’t change when you’re playing. And then when you’re outside of the sport, you don’t always lose the things that you’re dealing with when you come on to the court, or again, whatever space it might be.

And I think my freshman year that became really significant, something very significant that I had thought about. And there was a lot of police brutality instances that happened with young people. And I had actually, I had gotten pulled over in Brunswick, and I got out of the car because apparently … There was this whole fiasco. I apparently had missed … I got a speeding ticket. Not really proud about that, but it wasn’t that bad. But I had gone away. I went to boarding school, and so we had missed some payment. It was like a five, like some really small fee for the court fee that we just didn’t. I didn’t see the mail because I was away. And my mom owns her own business, so she didn’t see the piece of mail if it came. We’re not really sure. We weren’t notified about it afterwards, and so my license had been suspended, and I had no idea. And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I never break rules. So I’m like, “I’m really so sorry. I had no idea.”

But then the police officer had asked to take pictures of me because he didn’t want me to sue him for beating him … For saying that I had been beaten by him. And I’m biracial, so I’m actually relatively light, which is a whole nother identity that you can get into at a different time. But I was very just taken aback by, oh my gosh, this person sees me as someone who’s capable of accusing him of doing harm to me just because I was a person of color. And at that time, people of color all across cities were having trouble with cops. And I have no natural animosity towards cops. But I think that experience, and then going back to my teammates, I did not know how to talk about that with them because I didn’t think that anyone would know where I was coming from.

And I think that I had mentioned it to one or two team mates, and kind of the response was something like, wow, I can’t believe that happened. But that was kind of it. And so that was tough. And that was my freshman year. I didn’t even do this until my junior year. But that was an experience that resonated with me as being something like my teammates were my closest friends and that’s a very intimate space. And those would be the people that I would want to maybe talk to about something like that. And I didn’t know how to. And so I thought that was an extreme example, but there’s got to be other people who are having different experiences in and outside of their team that impact how they are, how present they are, and how they talk about or deal with different challenges on that team as well.

Lisa Belisle:                          One of the things that you mentioned was the idea of not being able to avoid conflict. And you used the word intimate space when it comes to playing sports, and I think that’s absolutely the case, that you’re on a court. Say if you’re in basketball and you’re in a locker room. And whether it’s your teammate or the member of the opposite team, you can’t avoid facing this person. But this is the way that we have dealt with conflict, I think fairly consistently for quite a while in this country, is to just pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Hannah Cooke:                   Yeah. Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                          And maybe marginalize people that we don’t agree with. How do conversations about that happen in your group? How do you talk about actually having to face this conflict and not run away?

Hannah Cooke:                   Yeah. My opinion is also going to be representative of everyone else’s. But we talk about this a lot. A lot of our meetings are kind of like dialogue like in a sense that I tend to be a facilitator because I do facilitation outside of that. That’s one of my jobs on campus. But I tend to run them similarly to that and getting people to be reflective of how they deal with those instances of adversity or awkwardness and we talk through it. And I think that everyone has different ways that they deal with things based off their team and what level in the relationship they are with people who this is happening with. I think power dynamics go into it too with people like coaches.

Being from a family that is very diverse, naturally just in itself, I personally, I’m of the opinion that having one on one conversations is really beneficial because I find that very often it is not a malicious intended comment or instance that happens. And I think that bringing people, calling people in instead of calling people out has been a really effective way. And it’s hard for some people to do that because it is hard because once you acknowledge that someone made you uncomfortable, there’s no going back, and that for some people is really … It’s easier to just not deal with that person or to say, “You know what, this person is too politically correct for me to be around.”

But for me, I think that if those relationships are really worth it for me and for those people, then the work will be put in and they will be okay with that. It doesn’t always work out perfectly and I think that is one thing that I try to encourage people to look beyond in the group. It’s like, whatever you say and how you feel is not always going to come out clean and smooth and really understandable for that person. But by mentioning it and by engaging people in those conversations, especially in an intimate setting that’s not even within the whole group, it does create a space for conversation to happen and for you to be seen and validated. And I think that sometimes there is so much fear that you’re going to say something that makes someone else feel uncomfortable or hurt.

But the fact of the matter is, is that there was a reason that you needed to say that in the first place, and that’s because you also felt some type of way, hurt in some way. And so it’s like, what’s more or less important? Would you rather deal with being hurt and feeling ostracized, or would you rather challenge someone in your life who you trust or love to do better? And I think by also challenging someone else to do better, it’s more a sign that you believe that they can do it. And that’s whenever I kind of engage with friends that I’m like, “Okay, I just want to kind of address this particular thing,” which again, is very difficult to do. But I always start with the reason I’m having this conversation, the reason I’m even saying anything is because I know this wasn’t your intent and I know that as my friend, you wouldn’t want me to feel this way. And so this is why I’m saying it, and I believe that you can do better. And it’s not supposed to undermine your character or really label you as a racist or sexist person. It’s just, I need to tell you, this is how it made me feel, and I know that wasn’t your intention.

And how people respond to that, again, changes. But I really do believe that if people really do value your relationship that they’re going to listen. And I think listening is the hardest part, and really hearing what someone has to say. But by not having those conversations, I always feel like it just doesn’t help anyone because that other person, who said X, Y, and Z, can continue to do, say those things, or those incidents can keep happening, and then that other person does feel isolated or ostracized. And I think that people are much more willing than we might always give credit for to engage with these kinds of hard topics because people on both sides are scared. And I think acknowledging that fear from both sides is also really valuable.

Yeah. I don’t really know how to express this. This is how this made me feel. It’s not about you. It’s just about, this is why this made me feel this way. It’s kind of, I don’t want this to change our relationship. I just want us to be able to build a stronger relationship. And if you don’t address those things, it’s impossible to build strong relationships with individuals anywhere in or outside of the team if you’re not willing to be honest about how you feel.

Lisa Belisle:                          Well, I appreciate your taking time out of your very busy life. I know that you’re in your final year, and I’m sure that what you end up doing after you leave Bowdoin will continue to lead you down interesting paths. I also appreciate the fact that you have founded the Bowdoin Athletes of Color Coalition at Bowdoin College, my alma mater. I think what you’re doing is important so I appreciate it. I’ve been speaking with Bowdoin College student, Hannah Cooke. Thanks for coming in.

Hannah Cooke:                   Thank you so much for having me.

Speaker 1:                              Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port, where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                          Tracy Guerrette is an elite runner, who won the Maine Marathon last October, and a former University of Maine basketball player. She is also the director of Faith Formation at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Bangor. Thanks for coming in.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Thank you for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                          We first learned about your success as a runner at the Maine Marathon. Actually, I was there and saw you up in the podium wearing your … Was it a crown of laurel or something?

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                          Olympian looking like that.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah. That was the best part of it all.

Lisa Belisle:                          Yeah. It was really great. You were very emotional about the whole thing.

Tracy Guerrette:                  I was, yeah. The Maine Marathon was a goal race for me. Just being from the State of Maine, I feel like it’s the marathon in the state. And I’m such a Mainer and I love our state. And so I just wanted to go down there and do really well. And so it had been my goal race this fall. And in my heart I knew I could do really well, and I trained very hard. Actually, I live in Bangor and I would drive down on the weekends and do my workouts on the course at the different points of the course, so I knew it very well.

And so, kind of secretly, I was working really, really hard at it. So yeah, you have that goal and you have the confidence to do it, and I knew I could do it. And so just to be able to run that fast. To win it, obviously was a gift and a blessing. But then to qualify, or to run the qualifying time and to run so fast, it was kind of unexpected. So yeah, I was very emotional and happy with it.

Lisa Belisle:                          When you actually finished, did you know that you had gotten a qualifying time for the Olympics?

Tracy Guerrette:                  I did. That was a goal of mine and I didn’t think I was going to run that fast that soon. And so to qualify for the Olympic trials, you have to run a sub 2:45:00 marathon. And so that was my goal, and I thought it was going to take me a couple years. And again, in my mind I had that confidence that I could do it. But to do it on that course, and it’s a very challenging course, so a lot of my friends in the running world were kind of deterring me from doing the Maine Marathon because it’s such a challenging course. And so, yeah, again I was pleased to run it that hard and to be that consistent with my mileage, and to run it that well was wonderful.

Lisa Belisle:                          Yeah. I’ve run that course. I’ve run the marathon now a few times, and it is very challenging, especially on the way back and there’s some pretty big hills on Route 88.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah, surprisingly, I thought the way out was going to be hard. On and out and back, you kind of just wait for the half. You’re waiting to get to 13 and you know you can turn around and come back. Yeah, I had practiced it a bunch of times, but there’s a hill at 17, I think. Is it Tuttle Hill?

Lisa Belisle:                          Yes.

Tracy Guerrette:                  So that kind of hurts. But I knew because I’ve trained so much on it. I knew that afterward you have some sort of flat and then there is a downhill, so there’s a nice recovery after. So I thought, “Once I get to 20, it’s going to be all down hills, supposedly coming into Portland.” But I’m telling you, that last mile and a half is hard because you get onto Baxter Boulevard and you can see the finish, but you still have a mile and a half. And by that point, you’re extremely exhausted and so I think somebody videotaped me coming in, a friend of mine. And I was trying to work as hard as I could, but I was just really tired by that point. And I kept looking at him as if to say, “Stop videotaping me.” But it’s a nice footage to have coming in, but yeah, it’s challenging.

Lisa Belisle:                          Yeah. I think that is the worst part of that last part, is that you’re thinking, “Oh, I’m almost done.” But you’re really not.

Tracy Guerrette:                  You’re really not.

Lisa Belisle:                          It’s much further around.

Tracy Guerrette:                  It is much further around. You can see the finish. And your watch doesn’t lie, so I have my Garmin on and I know that I have about a couple miles left, so you’re just trying to work as hard as you can to finish.

Lisa Belisle:                          As perspective for people who are listening, who may not be runners, what per mile are you needing to run to do sub 2:45:00?

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah. And so talking with my coach, Rob Gomez, we kind of had a plan that I would go out and do the first 13 miles at a 6:20 pace, and then the last 13 at 6:15. And so to go sub 2:45:00, it’s around a 6:17, but you don’t want to mess around. And so again, I go out too hard, so I went out at 6:12s. And on the back side it was about like a 6:19. But you need … So the focus was like 6:15, so six minute, 15 second pace per mile.

Lisa Belisle:                          Which is pretty fast.

Tracy Guerrette:                  It is pretty fast. It is. It’s funny. It’s daunting to think about as I sit here with you, but it’s amazing what your body can do when you train for it.

Lisa Belisle:                          You ran a lot of miles to get ready for the Maine Marathon, and then the marathon in California that you did not too long after.

Tracy Guerrette:                  I did, yeah. For some people, they can’t run a lot of mileage. It just really negatively affects their body. And so for everyone, you kind of have to find that sweet spot, which will benefit you, but not kind of overtrain you and hurt you. But for me, I could just run a lot of miles. And I think my body’s able to take it. And so yeah, I peaked out at 120 miles. So I would run. Through the summer I was running 80 to 90, which was not running a lot. I kind of took a step back and focused on my speed because the Beach to Beacon was a goal race of mine. And then to ramp up through the fall, it was about 100, 120 a week.

Lisa Belisle:                          That last part is very important. 120 per week.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Per week, 120. It takes a lot of time.

Lisa Belisle:                          You’re probably not running every single day.

Tracy Guerrette:                  I am. I don’t take a day off. A day off for me would be maybe an easy 10 in the morning.

Lisa Belisle:                          I want to just give that a moment to sink in for people who are listening. 120 miles a week, so even divided by seven, and say that 10 is your small mileage. Most days, you’re running what?

Tracy Guerrette:                  At least, at least 15 to 18 maybe. And so then you have that long weekend run. Like I ran 22 this past Saturday. I ran 16 on Sunday. Ran 15 yesterday. I’m hoping to get close to 20 today. And I don’t do that all at once. I double a lot. And I’m older, so it’s interesting at my age. So I’ll try to run more in the morning. But for me to get back out there and run a four or five easy couple miles in the afternoon really flushes out my legs, surprisingly. And I feel more recovered for the next morning. And so you think you’re doing a lot and you’re out there running a lot, but you’re so used to it that your body kind of craves that just to get it going again, if you could kind of wrap your mind around that, but yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                          Before you did this, you were a basketball player at The University of Maine.

Tracy Guerrette:                  I was.

Lisa Belisle:                          You had a whole different life as a different type of athlete.

Tracy Guerrette:                  I was. Yeah. I’ve played team sports all my life. I grew up in a small town in Northern Maine, St. Agatha, and we didn’t have cross country, or track, or anything. And so I just played every sport that was available to us. And basketball was the one that I kind of gravitated towards. It’s the one that I spent the most time doing through the summer and in the off season. So I’ve been playing since I was four. Playing, again, I’m a Mainer. I love the state, so playing at The University of Maine was my goal and my dream. And I was being recruited throughout New England, and division one schools, two and three. But in my heart, I wanted to play for Maine, and so yeah. Totally different mindset. Being a team sport athlete is just very different than being a runner. I find being a runner on a cross country team, it’s a team aspect, but it’s more individual. It’s been really neat to experience both team athletics and more now in my older age, becoming a runner.

Lisa Belisle:                          St. Agatha is not a large town.

Tracy Guerrette:                  It’s not.

Lisa Belisle:                          I mean, I’ve driven through it on the way to Fort Kent many, many times.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah. Don’t blink.

Lisa Belisle:                          How big is the school system up there?

Tracy Guerrette:                  It’s very, very small. The school system, they’re divided into different classes, and so we’re the smallest class in the state. We’re D, and very small. My graduating class was 33, which was considered a big class back then. And it’s still open. The high school is seven through 12. But I loved it. They say when we talk about a good teacher to student ratio. We had small classes, phenomenal teachers, great education. And the town is wonderful. Everybody was my friend. We grew up together playing sports together. You’re in extracurricular activities together. We all go to church together. And so it was definitely a blessing being able to grow up in such a small-tight knit town. And I didn’t know any different.

I never thought I went without. The closest Wal Mart is an hour away. That’s not a big deal. So yeah, it was just a wonderful upbringing up there, and it’s beautiful as well. I love it. It’s probably one of my best places to visit in the state.

Lisa Belisle:                          It is beautiful. And it’s also interesting that you were able to come out of such a small graduating high school class and play for The University of Maine, which is a division one school.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah. I keep in touch with the U of Maine coaches. I was recently an assistant coach at the University of Maine with that coaching staff. The big argument that I would have in a charitable way was, hey, even though a student athlete’s from a small town doesn’t mean they can’t play at this level. And so yeah, if there’s talent there, then they’re able to play. And I was very fortunate. I have older brothers, so I’d always play with them and they made me tough and competitive. I’d go to camps throughout the summer and I’d AAU teams. So I’d play on these AAU teams with the best players throughout the State of Maine and we’d travel throughout New England and beyond.

And so I was playing against that competitiveness, that competitive athlete, and so I knew I could play at that level. Back in the day, yeah, these teams were made up of the best athletes, like I said. So I was playing against kids from down here, from the middle of the state, and so I really feel like I was well prepared to play at The University of Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                          Your last name is French.

Tracy Guerrette:                  It is.

Lisa Belisle:                          And your family is very important to you.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah. They are. I’m blessed. I talk about my parents, who are still … This sounds really morbid, but they’re still alive and doing well. They’re older, and they still live in St. Agatha. But they’re saints. They really are. They’re the most selfless, generous people that I know. And so yeah, being brought up from Northern Maine, it’s very French. It’s very Catholic, very tight-knit. And so I grew up in a French speaking household, and so my parents would speak French to us as children. And what happened, and I regret this, is we would respond in English. And I think my parents regret not kind of making us speak it more in the home, and I regret not practicing more. And so I could understand it perfectly, but my confidence isn’t there when I speak it.

And I’m sure, we go to Quebec a lot, and Quebec City, and my parents are in their element. And I try to kind of practice my French when I’m there, and it helps. The more you stay there, kind of get used to speaking it. But yeah, French speaking community. And to speak with my grandparents, I’d have to converse with them in French, and it’s still very French up there when you go home, the conversations. It’s funny. We just had Christmas and if you sit there in the living room and listen to people talk, they’ll go from French to English, to French to English. And so it’s still very much alive and well. And it’s really beautiful too. A lot of the traditions of the French speaking, and just the fact that we’re Quebecois, a lot of those traditions are still very present up there as well, so that’s nice to experience when I go home.

Lisa Belisle:                          Even as you’re talking-

Tracy Guerrette:                  Can you pick it out?

Lisa Belisle:                          I can actually pick it out as you talk about being up there. There’s this interesting inflection that happens. It’s very specific to Northern Maine, and I know this because I spent a lot of time with people who were French speaking from Northern Maine at one point in my life. And what I found was, people would … The inflection would leave their voices, but then if they talked about being in Northern Maine, it would come back again. It’s very subtle, but I think it’s also a very different kind of French than what many people are taught in school these days.

Tracy Guerrette:                  You know, unfortunately that’s what’s happened. So we were all speaking this … It’s almost like it’s a Quebecois Acadian French, so it’s not your Parisian French that you would hear in France. So we’d speak it in the home and amongst each other, but then in school we would be taught the Parisian French, which is very different. Again, I just regret. I wish they would have more kind of the tangible French speaking in the schools. So we would learn the proper French from France. And so I think that kind of led to the fact that a lot of us don’t speak it anymore. It was more of a confusion than a help.

Interesting fact, though, or just interesting story. A couple years ago I went to Italy with the U of Maine basketball team. We went and we played a couple games against some professional teams over there. And when we were in Tuscany, there was a group from Bordeaux, France, and I could converse with them perfectly, so I don’t know. And they say that the French from those small towns have been preserved. And that’s where my ancestry is from and so if they came to Northern Maine, or to Nova Scotia, Acadia, and then eventually to Northern Maine, yeah. I don’t know. I could understand their dialect and we conversed very well.

A couple days later we were in Rome and there was a group from Paris, and I couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me. And so it’s interesting. Isn’t it? I don’t know why that is, just the different dialects of the French. And my parents are the same, so it’s funny. Like I mentioned, when we go to Quebec City, all those little towns on the way to Quebec City that you stop in, that’s totally French. And my parents are in their element. They get all excited. And like you were saying, they sound differently. It just kind of brings something out in them as well.

Lisa Belisle:                          Yeah. I believe that St. Agatha was. I don’t know that I’m pronouncing it correctly.

Tracy Guerrette:                  It is. You are.

Lisa Belisle:                          Yeah. Which, I learned French in high school. My dad spoke French. His family was from Biddeford and they spoke French amongst the grandparents and the aunts and uncles. I went up to Northern Maine and I did not have any idea what they were talking about. It was so different, but it was so great because I would listen to what people would say and the names and the way they pronounce people’s last names. And I would kind of translate back, like, hmm. This inflection is so different than what I’m used to, but so interesting.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Right. Yeah. And I think because people were Anglicizing their names, so they’ve changed the names a little bit. You think of the people in Biddeford or Lewiston, they kind of came down from Quebec. And so again, I think just the different areas like Quebec City, the Quebecois. And then you have some people in Northern Maine, so we’re considered Acadians. Right? And the Acadians and the Quebecois, they get kind of competitive with each other. I don’t know, it’s just that you have all these different dialects and language changing over time. I love it. Again, I really think people talk about two Maines. And okay, yeah, I know we’re far up there. But it’s beautiful. There’s something really special about Northern Maine and St. John Valley.

Lisa Belisle:                          I absolutely agree. And before I went up there, I didn’t even realize that the Quebecois and the Acadian, they’ve very different groups.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Right. Very different groups. And I think within my genealogy if I look at both sides of my family, I know the Guerrettes, it’s Quebecois. And I think there is some Quebecois as well. And so you have all these different kind of trees within your family, so I have both Acadian and Quebecois. And my parents are very into history, and so every time, again, we go to Quebec a lot, we’d stop and my dad loves to visit graveyards. But he just loves the churches because you have all the historical records and things. So we’d visit churches and he’d walk through graveyards, and he just loves that, just the history and the ancestry. And so that was a big part of growing up, a big, important part of growing up for me as well.

Lisa Belisle:                          You’ve chosen a path that is unique these days, I would say. You currently work as the director of Faith Formation at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Bangor.

Tracy Guerrette:                  I do.

Lisa Belisle:                          And you’re going even deeper into your faith.

Tracy Guerrette:                  I do, yeah. The Catholic faith was just a huge part of my upbringing, just being very French and very Catholic. I joke around. Some families decorate with Pottery Barn. My parents decorated with Catholic memorabilia, crucifixes, statues, and just the things that make the faith alive in the home. So yeah, it was a very important part of our upbringing. It was instilled into me. I had a desire to give my whole life to God since a young age. It had always been a part of my life and funny enough, even as an athlete, I really believe that God used just the game of basketball and that simple thing in my life as a tool for my conversion.

And so even playing at The University of Maine, basketball helped me to grow a lot in my faith. And so I was premed undergrad. I had the aspirations of becoming a doctor. And when I graduated, I just had a change of heart. And so I was kind of like, “Great. Now what?” I took organic chemistry twice, my MCATs a bunch of times, biochem, all these just really challenging classes to prepare myself. And I was applying to medical schools, but I wasn’t sure. And so I eventually got my teaching certification and went back into teaching.

My mother had been a teacher, and so I think because she had been a teacher, I just swore not to do that. You know, when you’re young and you want to do something different. But I just really discovered I had a gift for teaching. And so I started teaching, started coaching. But still wasn’t satisfied, there was just something else that was missing. And so in 2013, I had, just after much prayer and discernment, decided to enter a religious community. So discern my religious location is the terminology, the Catholic terminology, but wanted to be a nun to give my whole life to God. And I know people could have their faith and that relationship is really important, but I just wanted to give everything.

And so I entered a convent down in Nashville, Tennessee. The sisters were teachers and that really appealed to me, beautiful community. And in the first couple years of religious life, it’s very free. So there’s no other way to discern it, if you can imagine. It’s so radical. And so the only way really is to enter the life and to truly live it. And so they allow you to do that, and so yeah. Gave up everything. Paid off my car, gave it to my parents and they kept it. Eventually gave it back to me, which was a blessing. But just gave away everything, cashed out of my 401K, that was it, and took that radical step and entered. And God really made it obvious. Living life every day, and God really made it obvious to me that I’m not called to life in that community life, that I’m called to live my faith in the world, which I think could be more challenging.

When you have the strong belief, it’s not that it’s really easy, but if you’re surrounded in this community with all the people that are like minded, it can be easier. I feel like he’s given me that spirit and that … Even my competitive nature and my passion to live my faith in the world and to make a difference for him in the world. So I left after six months and went back into coaching because I was coaching at The University of Maine at the time. And Coach Richard Barron took me back. But I still … There’s something missing.

And so at the end of that year, resigned again, poor Coach Barron. Resigned again and took this position at the church, and so I’m the director of Faith Formation. And so we have six different churches under the umbrella of St. Paul the Apostle Parish. And so I oversee all the ministries that happen, from baptism prep to little kids’ Faith Formation Sunday School, and our high schools groups, to young adult ministry, our young families groups, adults. So I kind of oversee everything in our church.

We’re a very vibrant parish because Bangor … Bangor, Hampden, Brewer, it’s all together under one umbrella, but very vibrant, and so it’s very busy, but such a blessing. And so for now, I’m very content there. But no matter what I do, I want to do something in ministry and something to serve people and to give my life so that others may have life, and to make a difference in the world in a positive way. So it’s a blessing to be able to do that, St. Paul the Apostle.

Lisa Belisle:                          So you used the for now, so this still isn’t what … You’re still not exactly sure. That must be so interesting.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah. I know. Are we ever though?

Lisa Belisle:                          Probably not.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Maybe it’s me.

Lisa Belisle:                          I don’t think it’s just you. But it is interesting, the way that you’re approaching this is, all right. I know there’s something. I’m not sure what it is. I’m going to keep kind of getting deeper into it and being patient with that process.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Right. And so I’m still discerning my vocation. I’m 37. I’m single. And I’m still open to whatever God has for me, whether it’s marriage or a consecrated form of life, totally giving my life to Him, and living in the world at the same time. But yeah, I don’t know. I’ve been praying a lot about where I am. And my prayer is, okay, so this is where I am. It’s almost like I have a plot of soil in front of me and I just want to till the soil and work at it with all of my heart and do the best that I can with where He has me right now. And so that’s my focus is to do the best I can and to serve the people of my parish to the best of my ability.

It’s such a blessing. I see all the people that I serve almost as my spiritual children, even the older ones. And we have beautiful families and just beautiful people, and so my heart is full. And they’re just so kind and loving to me too. But yeah, this is where he has me, and so I want to do the best I can. They say, “Bloom where you’re planted,” but I know that, that’s not it. And so yeah, maybe that’s just the way I am. It’s like, I’m here for now and then we’ll see what happens next, see where He brings me next.

Lisa Belisle:                          Yeah. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s actually really common. But it’s unusual to hear people say that. A lot of people, the way that we are, I think, in this world, we want to go full force at whatever it is that we’re trying to … And we saying, “This is what I’m going to do forever,” or at least that’s what I hear. But you seem comfortable with this uncertainty and just doing the best you can where you are now.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah. I think God’s prepped me for it. Yeah. There’s so many things I’ve been able to do in my life. I’ve been so blessed and there’s so many things that I can do and want to do. And there’s so many desires that I have. I love to teach, maybe go back to school and study theology. There’s so many things and I just want to kind of lay them out at the foot of the cross and just be led by Him totally and just trust Him with my life. And He’s so faithful and He’s so good. It’s a continual, every day, just trust, trust where He’ll lead me and guide me.

Lisa Belisle:                          And at the same time, you seem to like the friction of competition. You seem to like … You’re not satisfied to just kind of hang out and do whatever. You’re like, “I’m going to go for the next thing. I’m going to try to qualify for the Olympics.”

Tracy Guerrette:                  Yeah. You know what’s funny about that is, Coach Richard Barron is such a wonderful man. He was the head coach at The University of Maine. He took over in 2011 and he hired me and I became his Director of Operations. And so when I resigned the second time, he said, “Tracy, you just can’t be faithful like a Catholic. You have to think about becoming a nun. You just can’t run. You have to run marathons.” And so I think it’s just a part of who I am, just it’s ingrained in me. It’s just who God has made me to be. And I’m very passionate and very competitive.

And so with running, it’s been a blessing because I’m so competitive and I need that goal and that drive, and so running’s great for that. And thanks be to God that I’m able to do it at my age, because they say since I’m late to the sport, and as women we kind of tend to do better in our mid to late 30s in endurance sports, like in the marathon. And so I’m kind of hopefully hitting my prime. Yeah. How could would it be to run in the Olympic trials, run alongside the best of the best? Not that I’m going to win it. People are cute. God bless people. They’re so sweet. They think I’m going to the Olympics and I have to explain. I’m like, “No, I’m not. I’m not going to win the race.” Oh, yeah you can. It’s only 20 minutes. I’m like, “Yeah, but these women are running like five minute miles and that’s really fast.” But people are so supportive and so sweet. But yeah, what a neat goal to have, and so that’s kind of like my next. Even though I ran the time, that’s kind of my next goal.

Lisa Belisle:                          So you ran in California and it wasn’t what you wanted to run. You didn’t quite qualify, but now you’re going to again for Boston in the spring.

Tracy Guerrette:                  That’s right. Yeah. I ran the Maine Marathon and so unfortunately we didn’t know this, and even the race director wasn’t aware that it’s not a USATF certified course. And so despite the fact that I ran the qualifying time of … I ran a 2:43, which you have to run a sub 2:45, it doesn’t quality. And so we’ve petitioned USATF and everything, and I’m still praying for a miracle. So if there’s any way anybody listening and praying for a miracle that they would take the time, just because it was my first time running it and I won the marathon, and such an emotional day.

And so then I had it in mind to run the California International Marathon and didn’t run my time. I ran a two hours and 48 minutes out there. And I think I jumped back into training way too fast. And they say it’s not very prudent to do back to back marathons and I learned the hard way. Usually, you have one in the spring and one in the fall because your body naturally can’t just peak and then come down and peak again really quickly. And being the competitor that I am, I just jumped into heavy mileage and ran 120 miles a week, 115, 110. And sadly to admit, I ran 90 even before the race. I don’t know what I was thinking. So I ran 90 the week before, which is what not to do when you race marathons. But I was very thankful to go out there. One, it was California. I ran in shorts and a T-shirt.

But it was also the USATF national championships, so the field was loaded with all these amazing professional runners. And because of my time at Maine, I was an elite athlete, and so I was considered at elite athlete in the field, and so it was really neat to be kind of treated that way, kind of dip my toes into what it feels to be taken care of and to be an elite athlete at a race. We have our own bottles on the course and we get VIP treatment. We get this special bus to the start, our own little tent next to the start. This was important, extra porta potties before the race, all those small little things that help make it easier, so that was just a blessing.

And my mother came out with me and we spent the week. So we ran the race. I went out too hard. I didn’t run my time, but I was thankful to be out there. And when I run, I look at running too, as just my time with God. And so it was a great 26.2 miles of pain and suffering and praying because I was really tired and I suffered a lot. But it was just a great time of prayer and time spend with the Lord. And then after, Mom and I were able to go to Napa Valley and visit the vineyards and do some wine testing. And then we went to San Francisco and spend some time there. So it was a gift to be able to go out there and spend that time with my mom.

So I took some time off, and yeah, so Boston is my next goal race on Patriot’s Day. And I’ve already jumped back into training. Took some good time off, and now I’m back at it. It’s funny. You can tell you’re back at marathon training because I’m constantly tired and always hungry. I’m starting to crave pancakes again and so you know that you’re getting into training, serious training. So hopefully my goal for Boston would be a sub 2:40, so hopefully I could PR and run faster and get that qualifying time at Boston.

Lisa Belisle:                          Well, I appreciate your taking the time out of your busy schedule and all the people that you serve, and your running, which takes up a lot of time as well. I’ve been speaking with Tracy Guerrette, who is an elite runner who won the Maine Marathon last October, and also a former University of Maine basketball player and currently the director of Faith Formation at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Bangor. I guess I can still good luck. You don’t have to say break a leg.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Please don’t.

Lisa Belisle:                          So when running, not break a leg. Good luck at the Boston Marathon.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Thank you.

Lisa Belisle:                          And I’ll be paying attention.

Tracy Guerrette:                  Thank you. I appreciate your time. Thank you.

Lisa Belisle:                          You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 337. Our guests have included Hannah Cooke and Tracy Guerrette. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are happy that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                              Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our Editorial Producer is Brittany Cost. Our Assistant Producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our Community Development Manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our Executive Producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at


Transcription of Love Maine Radio #335: Robin Alden + Joanna and Phineas Sprague

Speaker 5:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio show number 335, hearing for the first time on Sunday, February 18, 2018. Today’s guest are Robin Alden the former executive director of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington, and Phineas and Joanna Sprague, the co-founder of Portland Yacht Services. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 5:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio, Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the old port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingunn Jorgensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Robin Alden is the founding executive director of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. She retired at the end of December 2017 after 45 years of service in Maine’s fishing communities. Thanks for coming in.

Robin Alden:                         Great. Lovely to be here.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      We’re talking and the end of December 2017 has literally just happened. So you’re really still kind of working.

Robin Alden:                         I’m actually working this week mopping things up and taking care of loose ends. Yes.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      45 years, that’s amazing. I mean, you’re not a very old person, so that’s most of your adult life, I would guess.

Robin Alden:                         Well, actually I wasn’t really an adult when I started, because I was taking a year off from college and ended up in Stonington, and became captivated with the mission that I’ve pursued ever since.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Well, talk to me about that, because I know that following your passion has been really important to you and also, from what you tell me, to your husband, and you’ve encouraged your son to do the same thing. So what was your passion that got you to this place in Stonington?

Robin Alden:                         It was a series of just chance things that landed me in Stonington and the job I lined up. I was taking a year off from college. I was a history major and I didn’t really know. It was the early 70s, late 60s, and things were pretty tumultuous, and I didn’t really feel as if I knew what I wanted to study. And so, I took a year off to kind of settle myself. My father died when I was in high school and he was a very important person in my life. And so I was still going through that grieving. And so, I ended up in Stonington. The job I lined up didn’t come through. And so, I went down to the local paper, because what do you know how to do when you’re a sophomore in college? You know how to write and that’s about it.

So I rapidly became aware that freelance opportunities were covering the Chamber of Commerce, covering the school board, all land based, but the town ran on fishing. I started interviewing fishermen and that connected things in my past together. And so basically when I became aware of how much fishermen know about the local ecology, they know things about mud that nobody else knows there is to know, except for very, very specialized scientists, and they probably don’t know the things that fishermen know, because there have so many hours of observing the natural world. I also witnessed the frustration that fishermen felt that not being heard by scientists or policymakers and government. And my 1960s activism said, “Oh, we can fix this.”

And I spent the spring that year, I was off talking to fishermen. I just loved it. And to me, fishing seemed like the perfect business, because it connects … You have to take care of the earth. You have to take care of the ocean in order to be successful for the long term in making a living fishing, and you’re feeding people, and you’re keeping community economies going. I felt this if I had found the answer, and I wanted to fix this disconnect. And so the idea for starting a newspaper came to me sitting in a conference, when I saw the then newly appointed Commissioner of Marine Resources, Spencer Apollonio talking with a fisherman from the mid coast, and they were talking about shrimp.

And Spencer was a shrimp biologist, he knew a lot about shrimp. And this fisherman knew a lot about shrimp, and they could not hear each other. And finally the fisherman said, “I’ve got paint on my T-shirt. I bet you’ve never had pain on your T-shirt.” And actually knowing Spencer, that’s not true, but it was just this pure frustration. And I said to myself, “What we need is something that presents the world for each one of these two people living, to the other one in a non-threatening way.” I thought, “Oh, a weekly newspaper,” not knowing anything about publishing, “that shows up on the desk or the kitchen table, and just over time wears down those … bridges that gulf.” Long story short, I didn’t know anything about publishing. And I eventually got a monthly newspaper off the ground, which was called Maine Commercial Fisheries, and I called my mother who had been widowed a few years ago and said, “Your daughter’s dropping out of Yale, and she’s going to be starting a fisherman’s newspaper with no money.” And basically that’s what happened. And the newspaper’s still going as Commercial Fisheries News.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      How did your mother feel about that?

Robin Alden:                         I was 21 so I didn’t really register what she was feeling. Now, in retrospect as a mother, I think about that and think that it must have been pretty devastating for her. But she ended up very proud of what I’ve done.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Well, let me rephrase the question. If you don’t know how she felt, how did she respond? What did she say?

Robin Alden:                         I really don’t remember the conversations but I had $3000 that my grandmother had given me and it was mine and that’s what I did. And  [inaudible 00:07:33] not very successfully to try to make it happen during that next year. And the newspaper launched in September of ’73.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Well I think you’ve just kind of hit the nail on the head when you talk about when you’re 21 you don’t necessarily register because you know your parents say something and you think, “Well I’m an adult.” So you know, you do move in that direction. But the interesting thing about what you’re describing is that you were willing to do what needed to get done to make it happen, which doesn’t always happen at the age of 21.

Robin Alden:                         Yeah, I don’t know where that came from or how it happened, but that’s basically how I’ve done everything I’ve done, because it’s all been … You know, I eventually finished my degree at University of Maine in Economics. But all of the things I’ve done have been self-taught.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So where did that come from? Was this something that was modeled in your family? Was it something you learned in school? Where did you get the sense that you could figure out how to do what you needed to do?

Robin Alden:                         I had a wonderful education. I grew up in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area. I went to independent schools and I grew up in Cambridge when Kennedy was President, and many of the parents of people that I knew were working in the Kennedy administration, so it was a sense of if there’s a problem in the world, you need to step up and do something. And I had good tools, and not good tools in terms of knowing things, but critical thinking skills. And I think, I’ve always seen things as a whole. So you know some people are lumpers and some people are splitters.

I’m definitely a lumper and I see things in spectrums and the connections. And so I think that’s why I approach fisheries in Maine and the future of fisheries in Maine as a major set of things that need to take place in order for fisheries to be successful, and it’s everything from education to leadership to policy to really good science. The other thing, the other piece for this was, my father was an amateur naturalist, and had grown up on the water and worked on the water, and there’s a lot of … I mean if you’ve ever watched somebody sail small boats, they’re very, very attuned to what the wind’s doing, what the current’s doing, you name it, and that kind of fine scale observation is what fishermen do in order to make their living, plus it was on the water, so it was a very nice way for me to connect to a father that I’d lost.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You spent summers in Maine and that was your original connection?

Robin Alden:                         Yeah. My father was a schoolteacher, and so he would take his little family to Maine while he got summer jobs working on the water. So he ran the yacht club in Prouts Neck. For a number of years we lived over the post office. And then later he was part of the founding of Hurricane Island Outward Bound School and he did both the ecology and also ran the waterfront there. But he died very early in Hurricane’s history.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So that must have been a very formative time for you to lose your father so suddenly in high school.

Robin Alden:                         Very much so. Yeah.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      What I’m enjoying about this story is that essentially you saw that two different people representing two different groups had valuable information that they could each share, but somehow were not able to interface on, and so often that seems to be the problem, that it’s not that one group knows more than the other group, they just know differently, and then somehow there’s a translation issue. And so that’s what I’m really enjoying about this conversation is that you understood the translation issue and you tried to find a way to break that down.

Robin Alden:                         One of my favorite examples of this is actually with my husband who is a lifelong fisherman. He grew up in Vinalhaven and he fished his whole career, except for when he went to the University of Maine and ended up with a Master’s in Biochemistry, then decided that he wanted to go back fishing but he needed to get a job while he got reestablished, so he taught high school for a period of time, and then went back fishing, and as he came ashore he started to track historical ground fish location. Cod and haddock and pollack and flounders are ground fish, they feed on the bottom of the ocean. And that was his favorite fishery.

He fished every fishery that Maine fishermen fish, and so in the winter he started mapping historical accounts that talked about where fishermen in Maine caught fish on the grounds that he knew, and he called me in one night really excited. “Come and look.” And he had seen a pattern in his mapping and I went in and looked at the screen and it looked like a bowl of spaghetti to me. I could not see any pattern. And what was going on was that in his head, he had both the scientific rigor to map according to criteria three, observations and all kinds of things.

And the technical expertise to do that, GIS mapping and he knew the bottom of the Gulf of Maine. He knew that was a gully there. He knew there was a boulder over here, and he was seeing something that I couldn’t see. And so he could see the pattern. And that’s exactly what my life’s work been trying to do is pull those things together, because what we’ve learned about marine ecology in the last 40 years is that there is much more local stock structure and local behavior and learned behavior in fish populations than we ever thought. The basic fisheries’ management has always been based on, “Well, on average, there’s fish in the ocean and if you figure out how many are out there you can figure out how many you should take and then you’ll live happily ever after.” And it’s not that simple. So this local ecological knowledge is much more important and it’s even more important now because of climate change.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Explore that a little bit more for me.

Robin Alden:                         If you’re taking a mathematical approach to the ocean and saying, basically you just need to know how many fish are out there, we can’t see them, it’s so bothersome. So we’ll do sampling and then we’ll build models and we’ll be pretty good. And we are pretty good at that. We’re not perfect, but we’re pretty good. The underlying assumptions of that approach to fisheries is that it’s basically a static system. We know it’s dynamic and there’s things built into the model to be able to show that, but it’s fundamentally clunky. It’s not really adaptive. Climate change isn’t something that happens at a big scale. It happens at a lot of small scales, so the currents may change and one bay may change a lot. But outside that bay it may not change or this year or in this decade.

So the fishermen who spend more hours on the ocean than any research cruise entity can ever hope to have the money to do, they are the first line observers, and if their observations are actually funneled into a process of science that has figured out how to accept this type of observation, and one of the questions you asked me before I came in here was, “What’s changed?” When I published, I left the newspaper for a while in the mid 70s, and I was working for the Sea Grant Program at the University of Maine, and as part of that, we purchased a page in Commercial Fisheries News, and I ran a newsletter there, and in one of those articles I said, “Fishermen’s observations are really good basis for scientific hypothesis.”

You don’t have to accept them as truth but there are a great set, they provide really good questions that can produce better science, more in-depth perceptions than you would get if you were sitting in your ivory tower asking questions. The federal agency scientific lab the leader of it went to Washington to terminate my funding.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Wow. That’s … And you were just a college student.

Robin Alden:                         I was at that point back in school working half time and in my mid 20s. Yeah. And luckily, the vice president for research, a famous guy in the University of Maine, Fred Hutchinson who eventually came back and was the president, interviewed me and talked me through, and he said this is within academic freedom and we’ll support you.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Why do you think there was such a strong response?

Robin Alden:                         I was threatening the established … Back then there was no collaborative research. Basically, people’s approach to fisherman’s knowledge was I’d be extremely surprised if that were true. You know, they assumed that there was … it was an ‘us and them’, and fishermen are always trying to get more, and what I said when I started the paper and it’s true today is I’ve been trying to give voice to all the fishermen who sit in the coffee shop and say, “Well, what they ought to do is,” and they’re not talking about. Sure, every fisherman’s aggressive. Not every fishermen, but humans are greedy.

They want to get more, whatever. But there is this underlying conservation and observer theme in most fishermen and certainly in some fishermen and those are the people who were really thinking about, “I want my grandchildren to be able to have this lifestyle. I’m in the best business that there’s ever been, and I want to make sure that we restrain ourselves, because we don’t necessarily always make the right decisions. And I want to contribute my observations, and will somebody listen to me?”

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      As we’ve been talking, it has reminded me of the struggle that, just for example, health care providers have where there is the scientific knowledge, which is proven by numbers. And then there is the clinical knowledge, which you know, as a doctor for you know more than two decades now, there’s stuff that I have learned by being on the ground, by sitting with patients over and over and over again. But that’s not the stuff that comes down from the scientific bodies. And yet, both are very valuable and I think a lot of doctors feel as if we don’t have a voice in patient care these days.

Robin Alden:                         That’s really interesting, because you also are an increasingly regulated industry where a lot of what you’re able to get paid for, or the patients are able to get paid for whatever, it has to be based on all of those scientific studies and doesn’t readily lend itself to-

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Which is not unlike fisheries-

Robin Alden:                         Very similar. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but you’re right and it’s the same kind of fine observation, fine scale observation.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So do you think that this is an evolving change that we are seeing?

Robin Alden:                         I actually think that fisheries’ management is at a pivot point right now because of the acknowledgement of climate change and that is … First of all, fisheries is always about policy because it’s a public resource. So you always have government involved, whether it’s the town managing their claims or their alewives or the state or the federal agency, and the federal agency regulates the outside three, and the state inside three, but there’s lots of collaborative interagency connections that make all of that work. So you always have to have government, because otherwise there’s no form of restraint. And that’s been true …

I mean, throughout human history, there have been rules or taboos that have tried to allow humans to live within the bounty that the earth provides. Government science is in a terrible position all the time because if they make the wrong decision, one way they’re sued by the environmentalists if they make the wrong decision, the other way, the industry sues them and in fact, often if they just make any decision, they get attacked from both sides.

It’s a very defensive conservative cautious process, and I think this is again health care is a good analogy, probably in the same situation. So if you’re looking at the history of science, this changes very slowly, and most of fisheries science has been federal for many years because that’s the only group that’s had the incentive to have money for fisheries science. Increasingly, there is academic science going on as well.

And that’s a big change that part of where Maine has led the way and in some ways on this. But there hasn’t been as much challenge and debate with the science that affects regulation, that affects fishermen. And so where there may be a lot of recognition, let’s say, about this fine scale population structure that exists not just for codfish in the Gulf of Maine, but for scallops in the Gulf of Maine, whoever thought that in one small 14 square mile Bay in Maine, the scallops are genetically different from the scallops outside there, or that in the middle of the Pacific, a reef fish that’s an inch long homes not just to the reef where they were hatched from, but to the specific portion of the reef. There’s a lot of complexity that government science or the policy hasn’t caught up to be able to figure out.

And I think now that we’re facing that we’ve got a dynamic situation, we’re going to have to figure out what’s the political structure, what’s the decision making structure that’s going to allow us to adapt faster. And I think that where I’ve been interested in and where I’ve been greatly affected by Jim Wilson, who is a professor in the School of Marine Sciences at the University Maine. He’s an economist, but he’s been very involved in both sort of the interface between ecology and fisheries policy.

And he’s been looking at computer complex adaptive systems theory basically. And what you do when you have what you call a wicked problem or a very complex problem, is you set up feedback loops, rapid feedback loops so that you’re learning and you do this in a hierarchical way, because there are some things that matter at the very fine scale, local, and there are some things that have to be done at a bay or gulf or ocean wide scale.

And so for me the political science fascination right now is how do you set up systems that human beings can live within that create this information loop and that’s adaptive decision making that make smart decisions going forward? And I think, there are many people thinking about this now and although the laws still lock us into the old way of doing things, at the federal level, I think at the state level there’s much more room for innovation. And I think, some of the things that we’ve been involved with recently are going to be contributing to the federal agency being able to experiment a little bit.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Like what?

Robin Alden:                         As you mentioned, I’m just in the process of retiring right now. And one of the things that I’m really pleased to have been able to do before I left was to develop an agreement with the National Fisheries Service and the State of Maine and the organization that I led until just now, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, to develop the science that would allow an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries in the eastern Maine area. And it isn’t even fully … We don’t even know what this means yet. But the idea is two agencies and our organization have agreed to work to say, “How would we do this?”

And it’s a science agreement and it will take a number of years to figure this out, but we’ll learn by doing, and it’s building on the scallop co-management process that Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries was instrumental in helping get going in the state of Maine with the Department of Marine Resources. It will build on other types of local citizen science that’s going on at the clam level or the alewife level, and we’ll just see where it leads. But it gives me incentive for Coastal Fisheries and Paul Anderson who’s the new executive director a wonderful focus for the next era.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      I was thinking about the interview I did with Abigail Carroll who is an oyster farmer, I guess she calls herself, and her mentioning that different oysters in exactly the same location can have different characteristics based on how far down in the water they are. When you were talking about these microscopic environmental changes that impact an organism, I was thinking how interesting it is that we live in a time that we now can see these things, and we’re just on the cusp of being able to do something with this information.

Robin Alden:                         And that’s what they mean about the basis for a hypothesis or the basis for a business decision, because there are all these things. We can’t see currents, we can’t see plankton distribution. These things are invisible. Some are too big for us to see, some are too small for us to see. We see the indicators, which are the oysters at the bottom are growing differently than the oysters in the middle, than the top. And as the currents change with temperature changes, we’re going to have different plankton availability in different places at different depths. It’s absolutely fascinating.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Well, I appreciate the 45 years of service that you have given to Maine’s fishing communities and also the time you’ve taken to come up here. I guess down here from where you live in Stonington. I’ve been speaking with Robin Alden who was the founding executive director of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, who retired at the end of December 2017. But I suspect it’s not the last we will hear from you.

Robin Alden:                         Thank you very much. A privilege to be able to do this.

Speaker 5:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s old port, where everybody is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Phineas and Joanna Sprague are the co-founders of Portland Yacht Services. Thanks for coming in today. I think you like to be called Finn, is that right?

Phineas Sprague:                That’s right.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Okay. Nice to have you.

Joanna Sprague:                  Thank you very much.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      I’m really intrigued by all the work that you have put into Portland’s waterfront and this is something that you’ve been doing for many years. You’ve been married for 42 years that we decided that was how long ago.

Joanna Sprague:                  Yeah. Long time.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      And you’ve always been joined by the water.

Joanna Sprague:                  Yes. In fact, when we first came back from sailing, it was hard to be more than 72 feet apart.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Because you’re used to being-

Phineas Sprague:                72 feet apart, right, as far apart as we got.

Joanna Sprague:                  For many years.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You met in Florida, where you were working as a nurse, Joanna-

Joanna Sprague:                  That’s correct.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      And Finn, you were sailing around the world.

Phineas Sprague:                I was. I had the idea that we could sail around the world in 18 months. And it didn’t work out that way. But we did meet in Florida.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      And you also got married on board your vessel-

Phineas Sprague:                Right.

Joanna Sprague:                  In Bali.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      In Bali.

Joanna Sprague:                  And all of your family was there, and just my parents and it was Christmas.

Phineas Sprague:                Christmas Day.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      That’s very romantic.

Joanna Sprague:                  It’s romantic. It was part of what we sort of said, “Come visit us at Christmas time.” It wasn’t easy to find a minister. We weren’t sure he was going to show up. And he did. So we then brought out … Did have a ring? Yes we did have a ring. So we did get married, but it was a surprise to everybody.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Joanna, your background was in you said outboarding.

Joanna Sprague:                  Well, my parents had a little marina and camp grounds in Canada, and I grew up on the water. I delivered papers and then it shut down in the winter we would go to Florida, and they come back up and opened it up. So I grew up working in a little store.

Phineas Sprague:                OMC dealer.

Joanna Sprague:                  My dad gave us all of his old manuals and he even brought a motor to us one time on a folding motor, which was one of the first ones ever, ever. Then I went to nursing school, so I had a nursing background getting on the boat.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So I guess, what I wonder is, weren’t you taking kind of an enormous leap of faith by getting on that boat that first time 42 years ago with this man that you had just met?

Joanna Sprague:                  You’re right, because the boat was already in Panama at the time, and Finn called and asked if I’d help him get the boat across the Pacific. And I said, sure.

Phineas Sprague:                Where are the Marquesas?

Joanna Sprague:                  Got off the phone, had to look it up on a map. I had no idea where the Marquesas we’re, that’s near Tahiti but I never got off. Four years, later we sailed back into Portland.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So do you think it actually strengthened your marriage, the fact that you spent all that time together in a pretty small-

Phineas Sprague:                We’ve had each other’s backs. In most difficult circumstances.

Joanna Sprague:                  Absolutely. You know there’s no question that as I said, we weren’t ready to be apart when we came back sailing around the world, and that was the hardest part for me to go off every day and go to a job and not seeing him for eight hours. It was very different than our life together for the first four-five years was we were always together and we’ve always been on a boat. You also know who’s in charge, and in a house it’s a little different.

Phineas Sprague:                We’ve had an agreement since we were married and that is that she did all the little decisions and I did all the big ones, and after 42 years there’ve really been no big decisions, so any time I thought that was a big decision, I got really big trouble for it.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So it just sounds like you’re doing all the decisions, Joanna.

Joanna Sprague:                  No, I’ve had to relinquish-

Phineas Sprague:                She’s the admiral. I look at the horizon and she looks at my feet to make sure that I don’t trip.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You complement each other well.

Joanna Sprague:                  We’ve been at it a long time. We know who’s better at other things, so we let each other take off the walls. But those first few years of being married, we weren’t apart.

Phineas Sprague:                And it was also dangerous. You know we were in those situations-

Joanna Sprague:                  That’s the 70s.

Phineas Sprague:                In the 70s in Indonesia and Red Sea and places that … We were right off Timor when that was invaded. So and then we got in the cyclone and then you know we got some pretty bad storms and you know-

Joanna Sprague:                  We were one of the first cruising boats to go through the Suez Canal after it reopened. And it was frightening. Lots of stories of guns-

Phineas Sprague:                People couldn’t comprehend a yacht. Even the concept of you know, “Are you sailing around the world, because why? What are you doing? We’re having a hard enough time living and you have the resources to do what?”

Joanna Sprague:                  Would I do it again? No. I mean I think the world is a lot scarier now. I wouldn’t want to be at any of these places. I mean you know we get that question all the time, and there’s too much unrest, there’s too much dislike out there.

Phineas Sprague:                I slept with a pistol under my pillow all the way up the Red Sea and not knowing what I would do if I had to use it. You know, boats were machine gunned. And I think it was a young person’s concept that you could live forever.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      How old were you?

Joanna Sprague:                  We were in our 20s when we were doing this. Back in ’77.

Phineas Sprague:                ’77.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      And what did your families think of this voyage around the world?

Joanna Sprague:                  As I said, I’m the youngest in my family so my mom was okay. They came to visit us a few times. Same with your family. I think you had always talked about sailing around the world, as a kid.

Phineas Sprague:                Well I was always independent and you know my parents … I guess, they’d probably be put in jail for what they let me do as a child. You know they let me go out and I was allergic to everything that was on the farm. So at age six I was out rolling a boat around in Cape Elizabeth offshore in a southwest breeze, so my eyes would get all clouded up with … And then I ended up all by myself doing mapping for the main geological survey down the coal mines in West Virginia. We basically figured that the first pancake was the one that you always threw out, so it would be okay. There was a bunch of us. We were six of us.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You mean you were the oldest child?

Phineas Sprague:                Yeah.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So you were the first pancake?

Phineas Sprague:                Right. But the experience that they allowed me to do made me very independent. And I think that they trusted me but they would never allow more than three other kids on the boat at any one time.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Just in case something bad happened.

Phineas Sprague:                Right. And you know it was dangerous.

Joanna Sprague:                  We didn’t have the communications that we have now on boats. We had a ham radio and we had a single sideband that-

Phineas Sprague:                Didn’t work.

Joanna Sprague:                  That was one of the harder things for all of us was not having that communication. And if you talk to our parents, it was a big deal when we did make the phone calls.

Phineas Sprague:                Right.

Joanna Sprague:                  We tried to call them when we get into a port so they knew where we were.

Phineas Sprague:                There were great ham radio operators in Southport, London-

Joanna Sprague:                  That was a whole different level.

Phineas Sprague:                That would help us to communicate. You know nowadays you know you can basically with the radio and phones and all of this stuff, you have instant gratification from anywhere in the world, whereas when we were sailing, we were the last, I call it classic boat that used celestial navigation. And celestial teaches you to be very cautious. And you know there can be many days when you don’t have a good fix, and it can be quite dangerous when you’re making approaches to land. So things have changed. A lot of people that don’t have the maritime skills are able to get out on the water and go great distances now.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Celestial navigation is by the stars, so not having a good fix is, maybe you can’t see the stars well?

Phineas Sprague:                You can’t see the stars and you’re not able to locate your position on the nautical chart with any accuracy. So you’re approaching a coast or something in this storm, what you usually do is try to make contact with a lighthouse or something that flashes 20 miles off so if you’re 20 miles off course, you can see the light and then you can readjust and go on with a different form of navigation, but the real danger is just that period when you’re approaching near shallow water.

Joanna Sprague:                  You also use the sun and the moon. You can use all.

Phineas Sprague:                Planets and planet moons, jet contrails you know whatever tool that you have.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Tell me about the Portland Yacht Services. Tell me about how this came to be.

Phineas Sprague:                Well when we got back, it turned out that my grandfather Thomas’s company that he sold, which is a Portland company was for sale, and United Industrial Syndicate owned it and they had built this machine that reached out and grabbed people. So it was a huge liability. So they had to shut the company down. And so because my family’s been in the energy business for years in the coal mines and my grandfather sold it, we were looking for something positive to do and the Portland Company was building nuclear power plant components at the time and it had actually built the first commercial nuclear power plant in New England, Yankee Rowe, that reactor. And so my parents decided that they wanted to acquire the property and build nuclear power plant components.

And so because I was a geologist and had studied petrology and all of these things, it fit that I was working in operations. And after Three Mile Island, the whole industry shut down in the United States, and the Portland Engineering Company went out of business.

Joanna Sprague:                  That was the name of it.

Phineas Sprague:                And I had seen so many decisions that I didn’t understand and couldn’t articulate reasons for. I went back to school, went to Northeastern and got an MBA and was sort of starving to death. And so somebody in the Yacht Club asked me to put a fender on a Boston Whaler in my basement. And so I did that and then a person that I’ve known for years, Eddie Rowe was running the yacht club to do the maintenance in the yacht club had a heart attack, and they said, “Will you take it over?” and I’m going, “Well, you know, it’s food, right?” And so I started to do that.

Joanna Sprague:                  Out of our house.

Phineas Sprague:                Out of our house while I was getting my MBA and I got asked to go work for General Dynamics in Quincy to work to the quality assurance for the submarines. And I went down there and decided that none of these people were like Bath Iron Works and they didn’t understand, they weren’t doing good quality work. And they would eat the young person alive.

Joanna Sprague:                  Plus we didn’t want to move.

Phineas Sprague:                And we couldn’t move. We didn’t want to move.

Joanna Sprague:                  We have a lovely spot where we live, where we brought up our kids, and it’s one of the questions, totally, I’d stay there forever and we didn’t want to leave Maine.

Phineas Sprague:                So I was working on boats at the Yacht Club and somebody asked me to rebuild a boat. You know I started to move into an old potato barn, in Cape Elizabeth and you know we were working on people’s boats and came to the attention of the town zoning person and they found out, they said that it was not appropriate to build boats and work on boats in a barn on a salt water farm. And so we had to scoot into an empty building in Portland, which is the Portland Company and moved overnight out of there, and then later went back in and changed the zoning, but it was too late for us.

Joanna Sprague:                  When we moved to 58 Fore, we were only in a couple of the buildings. Most of them were leased at that point-

Phineas Sprague:                Or abandoned.

Joanna Sprague:                  Or abandoned, and Portland Yacht Services came out of that.

Phineas Sprague:                We actually didn’t have access to the water at that point.

Joanna Sprague:                  And within five years was the beginning of a little… and then choo-choo train came. And Finn was the guy that brought that here and hauled it down.

Phineas Sprague:                Biddeford, Ashley and a whole bunch of other people were-

Joanna Sprague:                  Kind of home. And that’s when you started to get the rights across.

Phineas Sprague:                I kept getting diverted by nonprofit activities. You know the school, I was on the board there and got that rebuilt and up with Jim Stevenson and-

Joanna Sprague:                  Lightship-

Phineas Sprague:                Nantucket Lightship and Spring Point Museum-

Joanna Sprague:                  But that’s all been coming out of the 58 Fore Portland Yacht Services, and as our tenants moved out, we moved into the buildings.

Phineas Sprague:                No sewer there. It was pumping the raw sewage overboard for years and you couldn’t lease any property there until you put the new pumping station and connected all the heads, the place has fallen apart round our ears. This was quite a struggle.

Joanna Sprague:                  And 31 years ago, we asked about doing a little boat show and the little boat show has a dozen boat builders from Maine just stand at a table. No boats.

Phineas Sprague:                Boat builders and [inaudible 00:47:37] Wilson a sailmaker from Boothbay.

Joanna Sprague:                  These are our friends.

Phineas Sprague:                David Nutt and Dragonworks-

Joanna Sprague:                  Within four years we had moved close to 60 exhibitors with boats and we started to utilize the space and that was just one weekend and the boat building industry changed. People came just to meet the boat builders, which many of these guys wouldn’t step foot outside of their shop let alone the state. So it was really an opportunity for that industry to get the spotlight on. That was another big change for us to utilize the buildings but the boat yard continued to grow.

Phineas Sprague:                Right and we got into a situation where we had to move the boats all outside in order to invite our competitors in to a boat show.

Joanna Sprague:                  It grew.

Phineas Sprague:                It grew and grew until at one point we had 240 exhibitors and every single niche and cranny was filled with the boat.

Joanna Sprague:                  Outside and inside and we had boats on docks in March. Unusual. And then we also-

Phineas Sprague:                The thing is that Joanna would run … She would do all the work to set the boat show up all year long, put everything out, get everything organized, get the layout of the place going until like a week before the boat show, and everybody else is working on boats and then suddenly it was like the starting gun would go off, we drop all of our tools, we’d move all the boats outside, we threw a party for three days with our friends in the boating industry. And then everything will go back into the building and we go work on boats again. So it was almost a month that we would spend not working with the whole organization and then-

Joanna Sprague:                  And we worked diligently with the neighborhood, because that neighborhood wasn’t used to it, and tons of people would come from away. And we had-

Phineas Sprague:                We were imposing on them, right. So we had to be really careful. You know and it was hard because you get people that are really focused in coming to this boat show and they don’t really care where they park and they don’t really care that they’ve gone up under the grass and somebody’s lawn-

Joanna Sprague:                  And it’s March.

Phineas Sprague:                And it’s March, so it’s mud season so you know it’s so difficult thing.

Joanna Sprague:                  We’ve put the flower show. We did that for 17 years.

Phineas Sprague:                It was Joanna’s love. You know, I will work in the garden when I can’t stand up in the boat.

Joanna Sprague:                  Is was a whole different crowd of people too, you know boats, artists. They’re rough around the edges. The green industry is a little different, but it was something we worked on. It was something that the Junior League had come to us but they wanted the buildings for a month. We couldn’t shut down our business for a month. We could shut down for a week and especially if we had two shows back to back, that worked, so we did that for a long time.

Phineas Sprague:                Kearneys, we call ourselves Kearneys for two weeks. But it was you know you didn’t do it enough so you became jaded, and you also were because it’s been going on for 30 or more years. The people that come into the show as exhibitors have become close friends.

Joanna Sprague:                  And we’ve seen a whole new generation, their children are taking over their businesses or their children are doing other things in the marine industry, just like our kids. It’s been really a piece that we work at also, it’s just education. We’re finding that the boat building industry needs to keep promoting themselves. You’re going to lose the art of building with wood. And we worked hard at the whole idea of education, where to get those kids. We work hard, trying to find kids-

Phineas Sprague:                Helped start the Marine Systems Program. And we find that the real issue is to start with a small boat, and then basically have the opportunity to look at the marine industry as a possible career. And you know people don’t remember that World War II was carnage, and Maine supplied a lot of Merchant Marine that never came back. And the mothers would tell their kids, “I don’t want you to go out in a boat with your uncle. I want you to go work in a mill.” So many of the towns around Maine basically if you go look at them, the anchorage is full of boats from away, and the kids are throwing rocks in the water because they really know that they have an attachment to it, and yet they don’t know how to get out onto it. And so you know, it’s been one of the things that we’ve been trying to do is to reconnect the young people in Maine with a place that you don’t have to mow.

Joanna Sprague:                  That’s where Sail Maine came in very early on. He’d with him for years, because the kids from the hill would come down-

Phineas Sprague:                And throw rocks at the windows at the building-

Joanna Sprague:                  We got to figure out what to do with these kids. They we’re bored. They want to be on water, they don’t know how, until they started tiny little boat building projects.

Phineas Sprague:                We work with the University of Southern Maine and we work with the city of Portland, the parks and rec, and a whole bunch of great people.

Joanna Sprague:                  And now we have worldwide sailors, nationally known sailors.

Phineas Sprague:                We got some of the finest sailors in the world coming out of Portland, Maine and that’s basically because we changed the model a little bit. All of the high schools sail together. So when I was a child, I would sail and there’d be one other person in the whole group that would challenge you. And now there’s probably six or eight or 10 high schools that are also playing excellent sailors and they all challenge themselves, so they end up being world class sailors, because that’s the model, that’s really different. My high school has always attracted great sailors from say Bermuda and other places in the world to sail, but even still, it’s only two or three people that are really good and they don’t have the opportunity to tune themselves up, whereas this program is really tuning the kids up to be excellent sailors.

Joanna Sprague:                  And some of the kids go on to Maine Maritime Academy.

Phineas Sprague:                Maine Maritime and Landing Boat School.

Joanna Sprague:                  Huge support funneling them, getting kids into that school-

Phineas Sprague:                Universities.

Joanna Sprague:                  Good jobs-

Phineas Sprague:                Further in the marine sciences and so that you know you can’t sort of take someone who’s 18 and suddenly think that they’re going to have boat sense and you know they are all thumbs and it takes a long time to get that original boat sense. So you really in my view, have to start in eight to 14, if not sooner in a very small tippy boat.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      I hope that people have been listening will be intrigued enough to go down and take a look at the work that you’ve done down at Portland Yacht Services. I’ve been speaking with Phineas and Joanna Sprague who are the co-founders of Portland Yacht Services. You’ve done a lot of good work for our city so I really appreciate it, and for the state of Maine. Thank you and thank you for coming in today.

Joanna Sprague:                  Thank you.

Phineas Sprague:                You’re welcome.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio show number 335. Our guests have included Robin Alden and Phineas and Joanna Sprague. For more information on our guests and extended interviews visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. Free preview of each week show. Sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We’re privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a good bountiful life.

Speaker 5:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our Editorial Producer is Brittany Cost. Our Assistant Producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our Community Development Manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our Executive Producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Speaker 6:                               So good. How can you paint a picture of a person who is already a work of art? Who’ll be the last and surely not the first one. Couldn’t choose a perfect place to start.

I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

If she were dollars she would be a billion. If she were water she would fill the sea. If she were taller she could crush a building. If she were honey I would be her bee.

I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

So all the black and white that filled these pages have run together into so much gray. Even though I don’t know how to read it, I just can’t seem to put this book away.

‘Cuz I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

‘Cuz I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon-

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #334: Joseph K. Loughlin and Kate Clark Flora + Nancy Thompson

You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Dr. Lisa B:                                This Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 334. Airing for the first time on Sunday, February 11th, 2018. Today’s guests are Joseph K. Loughlin, the former Assistant Chief of Police for the city of Portland. He and mystery and crime author, Kate Clark Flora co-wrote the book Shots Fired. Our next guest is former Center for Grieving Children President of the Board, Nancy Thompson who lost her middle child, Timmy, to suicide at the age of 18. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the old port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of the contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingunn Jorgensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Dr. Lisa B:                                Joseph K. Loughlin is the former Assistant Chief of Police for the city of Portland and a published author. Kate Clark Flora is a mystery and crime author who has published 18 books. She and Loughlin recently co-wrote the second book, Shots Fired, which came out this past October. Thanks for coming in today.

Joseph K. L:                            Thank you.

Kate Clark F:                           Thanks for having us.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You’re okay if I call you, Joe?

Joseph K. L:                            Sure.

Dr. Lisa B:                                All right. I’d like to start with reading a quote that’s towards the end of your book, Shots Fired and this was in an address to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, “Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and criminal justice system.” These words were echoed by Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, speaking at the memorial for the officers assassinated in Dallas, “Every societal failure, we put off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops. Here in Dallas, we got a loose dog problem, let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, give it to the cops. Policing was never meant to solve all of these problems.” The first quote, “Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and criminal justice system,” was by Former President Barrack Obama. That’s a very big statement to have in your book.

Joseph K. L:                            It is a big statement and it rings true because, actually, 70% of the time that officers spend on the street is negotiating from one thorny situation to the next and dealing with all of our societal ills that are left at the doorstep. Like the Chief of Dallas said, whatever it is, mentally ill, drugged, deranged, we’re dealing with that all the time. Police spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with those types of issues and often with no good answers. Where do you bring this person?

This is closed, how do I take care of this mom or these kids that have been taken away from the family and all those things. For me, as a police officer who spent 30 years in the business, to watch this country scapegoat the police as the problem was the motivating factor for me to write this book of police officers with Kate in the worst possible situation as deadly force which, by the way, nobody wants to be involved in. I think the rhetoric and the pervasiveness and understandings have been pushed out over and over again and have confused our society. Back to what you just expressed and what the President have expressed is true and we often scapegoat the police for the broader societal ills.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Kate, what was it like for you to work on a project that can be very grim at times?

Kate Clark F:                           Well, it’s my fourth grim project. Actually, I think it’s a really interesting question and one that people ask me a lot. Between writing fictional police and real police, I spend about 15 years now spending time with police officers talking about homicides but particularly talking about their lives, talking about the impact of the job.

Part of that came out of my early friendship with Joe, we’ve been friends for about 20 years. I think that I stand in the feet of the civilian, I’m the person who asks the question, “Why this? Why that?” Then I have, overtime, evolved into becoming the person who gives voice to something that a lot of police officers don’t have an opportunity to do. In our collaborations, of course, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It is an interesting time to be a police officer because it seems as though we are, in some ways, doing to police officers what we did to people returning from Vietnam.

Joseph K. L:                            I can’t believe you said that.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You can’t believe I said that?

Joseph K. L:                            No, because I’ve been expressing that. What’s happening to police in this country and what we need to know and recognize is that people today are very, very different from the ’60s and ’70s. The training, the policy procedures that we have now, the scrutiny that’s on, the individuals and the organization is intense and pronounced. Every officer out there knows that he or she could be front page news and painted in a terrible picture the next day.

I know I’m digressing but it’s the notion that any police officer wants to be involved in a deadly force incident is far, far from the reality and from the truth. You expressed that perfectly and I remember saying that when I was motivated to do this work and had to bring Kate in because it was so massive and I had so many officers I talked to.

I was like what’s happening to the police in this country today is very similar to what happened to our soldiers and military personnel that came back from the Vietnam War. Think about that, it was a horrible time in our country and people were throwing paint on them, urine and they couldn’t wear their uniforms and imputing everyone as this one big entity of a problem.

10 years later, we all come together and say, “Well, we’re sorry. We didn’t realize what really happened.” Well, too late, the damage is done. The damages have been done to the profession of police in this country and we are suffering consequences now. I can go into that but that’s a great statement because I’ve been saying that from the inception, from the thought of this book.

Dr. Lisa B:                                I was struck by how messy these situations are. You said this repeatedly in the book, that what most of us think of is what we see on television and that is here’s a brightly lit space, here’s a clean shot, the officer can fire at a person’s arm and that’s enough to disable him. What I’m reading about is officers who are falling downstairs and to darkened basements where maybe there’s bomb-making materials, they don’t have a flashlight, they don’t know whether the person’s on drugs. In one particular case, somebody’s being stabbed so people are fearing for their lives. When you’re in that situation, it’s not that different than being in a war time situation where you’re just trying to make the best decision that you can. It’s not probably going to be perfect and it’s going to impact you for a long time.

Kate Clark F:                           I think that’s one of the reasons that in some of these incidents, we’ve included the voices of multiple officers so that you can actually see that the officer on the left-hand side of the car who’s trying to get the driver out and the guy on the right who’s got a gun in his face and the guy in the rear who’s trying to figure out what role he can play in how to disable the bad guy. All of their precessions are going to be radically different because of where they’re standing and the public doesn’t understand that.

Joseph K. L:                            Well, you really captured a lot in the way you just expressed it. It’s not TV, it’s not the movies, these things don’t occur on sterile environments, they don’t defy the laws of physics. Usually, it’s in a flash or a blink of an eye when you’re talking to someone like we’re engaging right now, then all of a sudden, someone’s trying to kill you or someone from behind you is trying to get you.

It’s so unpredictable and every case is unique. It happens in cold weather, hot weather, different terrains, dark alleys, stairwells, down in the basements. It’s nothing like what’s presented on TV but the general population is educated and trained by Hollywood TV and the movies. Self included until I became a police officer which I expressed in the book a little bit as well.

I was a very liberal minded college student, I had no inclination of being a police officer by any stretch and that’s where life took me. You’ll learn the realities of things, but all cops will tell you that the general public has no idea what we really do on a day-to-day basis and how the day is punctuated by violence, whether it’s domestic or someone doing robbery or what’s illustrated in the book.

You really captured exactly what I believe society believes. Why not wing him, shoot him in the leg, it doesn’t happen in a clean and sterile environment like this room. Even at the range, at the firing range where we train, if I were to move my hand in a motion like this, good luck trying to hit it, it’s not that slow. In the dynamics that are rapidly evolving in these circumstances, people don’t stand still and present themselves.

There’s no spiffy dialogue before something happens, it happens in an instant and that’s illustrated in the book. That’s what we’re trying to show and the reason we picked deadly force, or I picked it, I had a whole another book going before this about police work, is when I saw the country convulsing into this, in my view, craziness. I just felt I have to do something about this and educate the public. People say it’s good to hear the other side.

There are no sides. The police and the public and the public and the police, we got to bring our society together. We don’t excuse bad cops, poor tactics, horrible situations, terrible mistakes that happen in war and then these violent circumstances but by and large, it’s a very, very small percentage that occurs in the country. Less than 5% of officers ever use their weapon, I never had to use my weapon in my whole 30 year career and that would be the norm for most police officers. People watch TV and Don Johnson in Miami Vice or whatever, going way back, killed 150 people. It’s something absurd and that’s what people think.

Dr. Lisa B:                                I had a hard time reading this book, not because it’s a hard read but because it’s so tragic. It’s people on both sides that are being impacted, really, for the rest of their lives and their families. It’s whether you’re somebody who’s high on drugs or just committed a crime and you’ve been shot and killed and now, you leave your children behind or you’re the officer who shot the person or you’re the officer that got shot in the face or you’re the officer who died, leaving children behind. Everybody is a casualty when it comes to a shot being fired it seems.

Joseph K. L:                            We should turn this over to her, this is great.

Kate Clark F:                           Yeah, [crosstalk 00:11:53]. You can just go ahead and talk about this book and then we’ll go write another one. Really, I think one of the things that people never really understand, particularly if you’re educated by media, is the ripples. One of the things that’s in the book that people don’t really think about is the officer’s family.

The officer is on the front page of the paper with the immediate rush to judgment and then the officer’s children go to school, the officer’s wife goes to work or to the supermarket and everybody has an assumption about what that person did which is not founded in fact. There’s implications for the victim, for the person who was shot, the subject and there’s implications for the officer. There’s implications for the department and for the families but that is all above the community because as Joe says, cops are not them. They are us.

Dr. Lisa B:                                That’s really important. This idea that these are, you’re calling them guardians within the book, that they are the people who are choosing to put their lives on the line and the families are choosing to be part of this as well. They can take up to three years or maybe the longer for investigation to figure out whether is it a bad cop situation, is it truly the fault of the criminal, what’s going on. By that time, a lot of people have lost interest. We only heard what we first heard and nobody ever comes back and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I was wrong.”

Joseph K. L:                            We illustrated that throughout the work and in a deadly force, as I’ve said, there are no good outcomes. Not for the officer, not for the family members of the deceased, not for the community, not for anybody involved in the peripheral, the organization goes through a lot and there’s a disconnect between the individual who’s involved like, “Hey, I don’t want to be involved in this,” and they get ostracized to some degree.

It depends upon the network and the professionals in each police department, but there are no good outcomes in these. It’s piercingly painful events and the worst possible situations. There’s a lot of ripples, as you said, in so many ways. They don’t walk way unscathed and they’re never the same again.

In fact, I have several officers in the book and I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of officers that just, “I don’t want anything to do with this profession anymore. I didn’t sign-up for this. I wish it never happened.” Those are the common denominators. Nationwide, many police leave the profession as soon as they’re involved in this and some never come out of it.

In fact, I did a bunch of interviews where the officers in the middle of it goes, or she, “I just can’t do this anymore,” or they actually start crying, tearing up, going to a trance of like, “I just can’t deal with this.” This is what we’re trying to educate the public about is that this is what you may think and this is what happens to the human beings behind the badge. I’m hoping it breaks a better understanding and starts better conversations in our country. We’re off the track right now and we got to get it back, in all aspects.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You’re not suggesting that there aren’t perhaps bigger problems within the institution?

Joseph K. L:                            Of course.

Dr. Lisa B:                                When we decided to have you on the show, I actually had two separate younger people talked to me about institutional racism within the police force. I said, “Well, I’ve read this book and it doesn’t … ” Obviously, I have very limited experience with this, but it doesn’t sound like he’s saying there is or isn’t institutional racism. That’s not really the point of what you’re trying to say.

Kate Clark F:                           Yeah, this book was not written to cover all the problems with policing in America. This book was written to say when we’re going to have a conversation about policing and in particular, when we’re going to have a conversation about deadly force and the use of deadly force.

We would just like people who are entering that conversation to understand that the things that we cover in the book, the things that people believe versus what really happens, the speed with which these incidents happen, the long-term implications for the officers. You talk to the officers in Watertown, for example.

The ones who were in the shootout with the Tsarnaev Brothers who didn’t know they were in a shootout with the Boston Marathon bombers. They thought they were stopping two carjackers and then bombs start flying and that’s people who, years later, are just recognizing the devastating damages that that night did to them.

How, in terms of going on with their lives and when they go out, how they feel differently and how they see the world differently and how unnerving it can be. We’re just saying read the book, read the stories and think about this when you are jumping to judgment or when you want to have the conversation. We’re not saying this is the end of the conversation.

Joseph K. L:                            I deliberately stay out of race because that’s another 22 volume book, that you really have to drill down on. I think, again, perception becomes a reality and I have talked to hundreds of police officers, I’m still involved in the profession and I deliberately stay out of that. Two things that you had said is that when something goes out on the media and it’s played over and over and over again to get into the psyche of the American public, it confuses good citizens.

Whether it’s race or our force which people have very little realistic information on in regard to what police do, in general, every day. Deadly force, there’s no information, it’s TV and movies. When that video comes out, when you see a video of a partial point of the video, you’re not seeing the entire story or the contours of the event.

Look at a football game, how many cameras does it take to determine what happened, by people who are present and looking at it but yet, they got to go to a camera and look at eight different cameras and eight different angles. If you close your left eye or right eye and you take a view, it can be myopic or in the perspective of the officer. There’s a lot more happening in a 365 degree.

I even have people say, “Well, they did it again. They killed another Black guy for no reason,” and I’d go, “Well, wait a second. We don’t know what happened here.” Again, we’re not excusing poor tactics, horrible situations, tragic circumstances but people, I think our society, sees the same six videos played over and over and over again.

I can drill down on each one, I don’t want to get into that. What I want people to do, what we’d like people to do is let’s expand our mind a little bit and have some conversations about the human beings and the reality. Again, it’s not excusing terrible circumstances. Let me keep going, every single year in this country, 60,000 police officers, and that’s only a week, are assaulted in the line of duty.

It’s happened to me many times and many of my co-workers in Portland here and that’s illustrated in the book as well. There are officers that are shot in the face, they’re crippled for life, they have breathing tubes, they got cinder blocks on the head and the list goes on. Thousands every single year, you don’t hear a word. Very similar to our veterans that you don’t hear about. By the way, the veterans, there’s 22 suicides a day.

The same thing happens as pronounced in police work too because you’re exposed to such a undecided society, difficulty environment everyday with no good answers and is punctuated by violence. Back to the original piece of this, we stayed out of the race problem because it is a problem and it’s a perception and realities and all those things, that’s another whole book. That’s not the point of the work. The point of the work is the human beings and bringing us together with conversations. Makes sense?

Dr. Lisa B:                                Absolutely.

Joseph K. L:                            Okay, because what you’re saying is pretty good. You capture a lot. I can just go on and on because I get passionate about it.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Well, one of the things that, as I was reading the book, I was thinking about my work as a family practice doctor, my father’s work as a family practice doctor, my mother’s work as a teacher. I think don’t think it’s dissimilar in that you take all commerce, somebody crosses the threshold. At least, if you’re teacher or if you’re a physician and you deal with whatever it is in front of you. It’s not necessarily straightforward and it’s not necessarily as simple as, “Oh, here’s a urinary tract infection,” that you’re just going to give antibiotics to. There’s webs of things, you’re dealing with so much back story to so many of these situations. As a police officer, you’re not even in a safe environment necessarily, you go to wherever you’re needed to go and you do whatever they asked you to do. That’s probably about as sub-optimal as any job I could think of.

Joseph K. L:                            Well, you’re thrown into, again, rapidly evolving circumstance. 911 calls comes into this building for instance, with somebody, I don’t know, breaking all the windows out with an ax and going crazy and chasing people around. Now, by the time you get there, things have changed. You may think you’re going in to this environment here or the person has moved over there and there’s all sorts of damage.

You just don’t know, on any given call, what’s going to happen. Now, I’m painting an extreme case but most of the cases we talk about in this book happen on routine calls, a noise complaint, a routine arrest, a check-in on someone, a typical car stop. They explode into these insane cases with violence.

My point is you just don’t know on, any given day, what police officers negotiate each day. Let’s say there was a horrific accident out here when we all get out of the show here. People are dying and dismembered or something like that and everybody here in this room sees that, that’s going to affect you for the rest of your life.

That maybe the first call of the day for the officer and then he or she is going from one difficult situation to the next, trying to calm down. Abused kids, the list goes on and there’s a cumulative effect on the individual overtime. That’s another part of this book too is let’s do something for the holistic health of officers.

In the end, we talked about solutions where we can infuse some funds and money and create good employee assistance and good peer support networks which, by the way, it’s like 5% of police departments have that nationwide. Any profession that values bravery and stoicism, it’s put along the side.

Just like our veterans, you need to take care of the mental health and the emotional components of the job. Don’t you want good officers pulling up and trying to make informed decisions? It’s pretty tough. It’s a tough, tough job. Now, I think more than ever, I think we’re experiencing something in the profession that I haven’t seen since I’ve been involved in this.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Kate, were you surprised by some of the things that you found? It’s relatively recent that employee assistance programs have actually come on the scene, even the training is somewhat inconsistent. Some officers know a lot about weaponry and some officers don’t have quite as much knowledge. When you were writing this book, did you find things that you thought, “Oh my goodness, I never would’ve guessed that.”?

Kate Clark F:                           Not so much. The last book that I did was a Maine game warden’s memoir and after he had spent 25 years in the woods, he said he’d probably pulled 200 bodies out of the woods. He’d gone to New Orleans after Katrina. Because I’ve been doing this for a long time, I was much more focused, I think, on trying to make sure that the impact part of the story stayed in the book. When our editor would say, “I want to cut this here,” I would be saying, “No, because the things that the officer says about his life after this in the next three paragraphs are the critical ones.” What we’re looking for is not simply the incident but the resonance, the impact. I don’t think I was surprised. Joe, what do you think?

Joseph K. L:                            Well, you have experience now. You’ve been doing it for a long time.

Kate Clark F:                           I’ve been doing this for a while. I see one of the roles that I play as being a civilian spokesperson for saying this is a world we don’t know about. I act as a translator, so for me it wasn’t as surprising as it might otherwise had been if I hadn’t been doing this for 15 years. I think it should surprise and have impact on readers.

I think they should be saying I had no idea because, as he says, on Miami Vice, on TV shows constantly, the officer shoots somebody next week and the week after and the week after that. Even when I’m writing fictional cops, I’m always thinking about what’s the actual impact of having seen this thing or been in this situation. I think that’s important for the public, for all of us to understand. I shouldn’t say the public, I am the public.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Are we getting to a place where we are doing better at having conversations across disciplines? I guess what I’m specifically thinking of is we know that we have a drug problem, we know it’s a worsening drug problem. As a doctor, I deal with this all the time whether it’s a baby who is born from an addicted mother or whether it’s the family of a person who committed suicide after not being able to kick an addiction or the patient him or herself. Then you’re from the police force, you have a different view of this, the public has a different view of this. Are we getting better at having conversations?

Joseph K. L:                            We need to get better. We need to get better nationwide because critics of the police conveniently dismiss that the job is inherently dangerous and also, they dismiss statistics and the reality of the work and that’s what this is about. I think we really need to get a lot better. There’s a lot of talk but not about this. Police are ubiquitous, they’re everywhere.

The drug problem, that’s what people are focused on right now. The narcotics and the heroin problem is pronounced. It’s in front of us, we see it everyday. You see an officer sitting in a car or in the open-air, you don’t know what they’re doing, they’re just having a cup of coffee or writing a report maybe.

You have no idea where that person had been. He just might come from a SIDS death, a baby died or a horrible death scene or something really violent. We need to have these conversations and that’s why this book is about the extreme circumstances. Again, going back to where the nation convulsed into this craziness.

In the words of the president, scapegoating the police for all the other problems. Let’s look over here and not here. 17,250 murders in this country, deaths are up 20% from when I started doing the book. That’s a problem. How about two women a day are killed by spouses and guy violence? That’s a problem.

Why are we talking about what’s going on inside the inner cities and the terrible dysfunction and the hopelessness. These poor souls that live in these inner cities and then the police are put in an impossible situation with people who are in impossible situation. They’re not good outcomes. That’s the point of the book, let’s open our minds a little bit.

Expand conversations and not conveniently dismiss like, “Look, the cops did it again,” and go back to the ’60s or ’70s, a lot of people have a tendency to go back in time and think of the police in those terms or in terms of Hollywood. I really don’t think we are getting better, I think we’re getting better when something’s in front of us but from my perspective, I think the police are dismissed frequently.

People have parts and pieces of information from social media or from a reporter, “Yup, this is what happened tonight. We’re investigating it.” You’ll never going to hear anymore about the case which even when we pull up, as a commander that pulls up on a deadly force incident that I’ve been involved multiple times in.

It takes us time to figure out, hours and hours and hours to figure out. “Well, Kate was there,” “What do you mean Kate was there?” “Well, Dr. Lisa was there too,” and wait a second, it just takes a long time and then it takes protracted, multiple investigations from various sources.

From the attorney general officer, district attorney to internal affairs to use of force teams and policies and procedures. There’s a lot, lot more to this. Hopefully, going into the human dynamics behind these things and the humanity and the piercing and painful events that happen, I hope this does and we both hope this breaks better understandings.

Dr. Lisa B:                                I’ve been speaking with Joseph K. Loughlin, the former Assistant Chief of Police for the city of Portland and a published author, along with Kate Clark Flora who is a mystery and crime author who has published 18 books. Thank you for being here.

Kate Clark F:                           Thank you, Lisa. I wish we had another hour.

Joseph K. L:                            Thank you.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Dr. Lisa B:                                Nancy Thompson is an insurance agent who lives in Cape Elizabeth. In 2004, her son Timmy took his life as a result of depression. Since that time, both Nancy and her husband have been speaking publicly about the loss to save other lives. Thanks for coming in.

Nancy Thompson:              Nice to be here, thank you for having me here.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You have a picture of your son, Tim.

Nancy Thompson:              I always take him with me.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Yeah, he’s sitting here with us. As someone who has a son who is now 24, I just remember this age so vividly and I remember just the sense that how could anything really go wrong in life. They’re so energetic, they’re so full of life and yet it did for you. Even looking at your son, it just makes my heart break as a mom.

Nancy Thompson:              Well, thank you. He was an incredible kid. Lots of energy, loved by all, wonderful, wonderful soul. Always had a smile on his face and was the first one to seek out if somebody was not up to par. If they were down and out, he’d be the first one, he’d be the class clown to make them laugh or make them smile or put that long arm around them. He was 6’3″, 175 pounds, long and lean. Just a loving, loving kid.

The sense that Timmy had, he’s very sensitive so he knew when other friends were struggling. He was the go-to kid. Just always, always fun so never, never in my wildest dreams that I ever imagined that he had this internal struggle called depression, that comes on so suddenly and so strong like a ferocious illness that just takes over.

It takes over your mind and he’s still there in that body, he’s still there in that façade but yet, the mind changes so quickly and so dramatically. To my husband, Tim and I, we’re really struggling to try and help him and it was a very short period of time. It’s a time of, like you said, excitement, high school.

They’re coming out sideways because they’re all nervous about which college they’re going to go to, where their friends are going to end up. It’s just very exciting. It’s on the last of all of the things that they’ve done for four years in high school. Suddenly and slowly, his personality started to change just towards the end of the school year.

He turned 18 on May 1st and was so excited about being a true adult and just going out into the world. I could just see a couple of times, he had just grabbed me in the kitchen, I was always grabbing him by the waist because he was so tall and pulling him in just to give me a hug before he left. I could just see in his face, it was different.

It wasn’t Timmy. We knew he was struggling a little bit but didn’t understand the whole process of depression and how it can take over your personality. We started to ask questions, try to get him into a doctor. He had been attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity since childhood and all the teachers would say, “Oh, don’t worry about it.

He’s got a lot of energy. When he grows up, he’ll be a CEO of a company. He’ll be in sales because he’ll have that energy. He’ll coral that energy and he’ll go out and do something wonderful in the world.” We got him to age 18, we got him through the school system, graduating from Cape Elizabeth High School, we did all those milestones. Then, all of a sudden, he started to change. In May, in June and literally, we’re fighting for his life.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It’s not a easy thing to get help for something like this, is it?

Nancy Thompson:              Gosh, no. No. One of my good friends is a psychiatric nurse. I didn’t even think in my own mind to pickup the phone and ask her and say, “These are the types of signs that I’m seeing.” He’s being restless, he wants to stay up at nighttime, he’s sleeping in the daytime where Timmy never slept in the daytime, the eating patterns had started to change. This is all within just a couple of weeks of time. People rack it up for senior summer, they’re busy, they’re not getting sleep, they’re running on empty. In hindsight, everything is perfect but the perfect storm was ahead of me and I didn’t understand what that perfect storm was, with all of the stressors that he had going on in his life at age 18.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Having worked with 18 year olds for a long time as a doctor, they’re not always interested in getting help or interacting and talking about things that are hard. Actually, I think I know a lot of adults this way too but to be an 18-year-old and sometimes not even have the words.

Nancy Thompson:              Independent. Thinking they could figure it out on their own. Looking back, most of his friends, they were so devastated when Timmy took his life because they had no idea, the internal struggle that he had. Just like his family. We’re a really tight family, we ate meals together, we were together, the seven Thompsons were glued together so his four siblings would have done anything in the world.

The kids said that they would’ve been with him 24/7 if they had to and I tell everybody, I would’ve strapped that kid to my back, I would’ve carried him 24/7 had I known six weeks after we started to think that he was having some problems. I wouldn’t have let him out of my sight. As it turned out, he ended up taking his life in our own home while all seven of us were there, trying to help him. We were there together, right at the very end.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It’s been almost 14 years. It’ll be 14 years …

Nancy Thompson:              This July.

Dr. Lisa B:                                This July but it’s still really …

Nancy Thompson:              It’s there, just like yesterday. Yeah, but a lot has happened in almost 14 years. A lot of good has come as a result of Timmy Thompson. I’m not afraid to talk about Timmy and that’s why I take his picture with me everywhere I go because I want people to know that this could happen to their child. I want people to know that a great kid like this could struggle with depression and it could happen to their own family members. We started lots of kitchen table conversations through the years for struggling teenagers.

I wanted parents to ask the questions, see how their kids are, check-in with their kids and we always had an open door policy in our house. All of Timmy’s friends came after we lost Timmy and I said, “I didn’t want a fall out. I didn’t want another kid to take their lives, I wanted them to talk to their own family members but if they weren’t comfortable, come and knock on my door. My door is open.” I would get kids coming in at midnight.

I’d be sitting in my pajamas in my den, looking at pictures of Timmy at midnight and I’d see these eyes peering in and my husband and I would wave them in. They were checking in with us and we were checking in with them, then they come in and talk. That’s all they wanted to do was talk. I think a lot of the times, family members don’t have that opportunity to talk. They don’t really see what’s going on with their kids because they’re so busy with life.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Where did Timmy fall in the line-up? Was he the oldest, was he the youngest?

Nancy Thompson:              No, middle. Middle. I had two daughters, Molly and Emily, they were 14 months apart and then two and a half years later, I had Timmy. He was this bounding energy and I had a harness on that kid from the minute he was 18 months old. You only have two arms but when you get your third child, you have to grab them and pull them in. Then two years later, we had Russell and then another two years, we had Hailey. Three girls and two boys.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Do you think that there was something about being a middle child that made him more likely to try to take care of himself a little bit?

Nancy Thompson:              Probably. Being the first male too, independent. Yeah, no, he was the center of the family because he did bring so much energy to the family. We love the energy because we’d be sitting around and not doing anything, he’d be the first one to say, “Come on, let’s go out. Let’s go outside and play. Let’s shoot some hoops. Let’s do this, let’s do that.” All of kids were pretty athletic so we spent a lot of time outdoors and they all skied and they all played basketball and they all played soccer. I spent my life in a minivan taking them everywhere, but I loved every minute of that. The travel soccer where we’d go to Maryland or Pennsylvania or wherever. Not just my own children but all these other kids so it was a busy, busy time. He added a lot to that energy and it was a lot of fun.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You talk about him being very tuned in to other people, sometimes people who are sensitive and tuned in to other people, they end up carrying burdens for others as well. Do you think that happened for him?

Nancy Thompson:              I totally agree with that. I think in his mind that he didn’t want to be a burden to his family. I think as he was thinking about that and thinking about the life that possibly he could have with his emerging mental health issue, that I think that he thought, in his mind, “I don’t want to be a burden to my family.”

I would give anything to go back and have that conversation with him and say, “Tim, that’s what families are all about. We’re here to support each other.” It’s not only my immediate family but again, I come from a large Irish-Catholic family in Boston with eight kids and my dad was a police chief in the town.

We did a lot of things and having a large extended family who loved and adored him, the ripple effect through the family was just immeasurable because all of a sudden, one minute Timmy was here and the next minute, he was gone. It wasn’t just the impact on our small nucleus, it was the extended family and then the community.

When we lost him, it was just incredible the amount of people that came out because they knew that he really was a great kid. You know how everybody has their moments but he really, truly was a good boy. That’s what a lot of people wanted to pay tribute to that, that he was a kind soul and he was very sensitive.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It is possible to be all of those things and have depression. Depression it’s a biologic process so I’m not sure everybody thinks about it that way. There’s such a stigma that is associated with mental illness, better than it used to be, we’re talking about it more and we’re realizing it more. I have talked to patients who have, for years, suffered with anxiety and depression and don’t want to talk about it with anybody else because they feel embarrassed somehow. Somehow it makes it so that they want to be positive, they want to help everybody else, they want to carry the burdens for other people and they can’t. It feels like a dark place inside of them. Did you ever get that sense with him?

Nancy Thompson:              No, not at all. Not at all. Again, because it came on so suddenly and so quickly at the end of his senior year, that we didn’t have enough time to deal with the depression that had come on so suddenly. I do, when I talk, I hope that by talking about it and being very public about depression, that people will understand that there are people out there to help.

Don’t be afraid of this crazy stigma about mental illness. We all have issues, we’re human. When you talk about it, I just hope that people will have a better understanding. Stop the stigma, be the voice. My youngest daughter, Hailey, has moved to Richmond, Virginia and she’s going for her Master’s. Obviously, her life was changed.

It turned upside down but she’s gone into social work and here’s this little sixth grader who lost her big brother who she adored and now, she’s 26 and going to get married in July. She speaks like me. At the top of a mountain, she spoke in front of a thousand people at a walk and he gives us the courage to go out there and go talk about it.

If we tell our Timmy story, that will save lives. I can’t tell you how many people talk about the stigma of suicide and how afraid they are. The more times you talk to people, the better off you’ll be because you are de-stigmatizing it. People can talk about heart issues or cancer like nothing, but they can’t talk about depression.

That’s one of the things that I tell everybody, I’m going to go to my grave talking about getting rid of the stigma because it’s silly. You will save a life. Put an armor on somebody if they’re struggling. Pickup the phone for somebody, access services, get to know your local support services.

They know it. Your first responders are the people that know when people are struggling. Just go the extra mile for people and I think this place would be a lot better if people weren’t so close-minded about mental health issues.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Why do you think that they are?

Nancy Thompson:              Again, the stigma. People feel like there’s something wrong with me if I have dark periods or something. There’s got to be something wrong with my family. Every family has issues, every family. Nobody’s perfect. It’s amazing the stories that I’ve heard through the years of just the simple acts of kindness that people have done when people are in a dark place, that have saved lives.

Literally saved lives. Opening doors for somebody who is just going to go and take their life because they were so tired of the day-to-day struggle that they had and that person that opened the door and said, “Hey, how’s your day?” snapped them out of it. I’ve heard so many stories from so many survivors, little acts of kindness made all the difference in the world that snapped them out of whatever it was, their thought process at that time.

Dr. Lisa B:                                We’ve been talking more about the depression, talk to me about the suicide. If depression has a stigma, suicide has that in spades I think. It’s such a final solution and I think all of us struggle with that.

Nancy Thompson:              Sure. Well, obviously people take their lives, they’re not in the right frame of mind. We all know that. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Usually, it goes hand-in-hand with somebody who’s struggling with some sort of depressive state and that’s why if somebody is suicidal or if they got suicide thoughts, don’t leave them. Be with them until you can access services that somebody will be there, some professional can help you.

A lot of people will claim that their suicidal and people will leave them unattended and they should have somebody there at all times. You’ve always got to have somebody. If they are tending to talk about suicide and there are enough professionals there, again, the first responders, most of them are trained on crisis intervention training.

They all have these wonderful training models and they are there to help. I think a lot of times, we have to have more people that will be open to helping one another. I think that there’s a fear there that they don’t want to extend themselves. Number one is stay with that person until you can have a professional help you.

Dr. Lisa B:                                What’s just so striking to me is you said that everybody in your family was home. You all were with Timmy and it almost seems as if you were living what you’re telling me other people should live and still, you went through with this. That is just heartbreaking really.

Nancy Thompson:              Yeah, it was. He had gone up into our bathroom and my youngest daughter, when the hair in the back of your neck goes up, she kept checking on him and we were moving him around from his bedroom, downstairs to upstairs. He had the high school pad downstairs in the basement because it was like a rite of passage when you’re going off to college that you got to have a downstairs suite.

He said to me a couple of days beforehand, “Mom, it’s too dark in the basement. I think I want to come upstairs.” We’re all moving his furniture upstairs and we’re shuttling up and down and taking care of all of his clothes and his furniture and painted the room because we knew he was struggling.

He went into our bathroom and Hailey had checked on him just 30 seconds beforehand. The week before, our attic door had broken and we heard bang and we thought it was the attic door coming down, that had broken. It was Timmy, he had shot himself on our bathroom. We had no idea that he had gotten a hold of a gun but he did and it was devastating for all of us. He had a plan in place and it was a difficult, difficult time for all of us.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It sounds like you were doing everything that you could do.

Nancy Thompson:              Yeah, we were. We really were. We were all with him and as I tell all these kids, I think in life they think that the problems that they have at the time are so difficult, that they’re not thinking as adults would. That they’re so severe at that stage that they don’t think clearly enough because obviously, their brains aren’t as developed as adults. Those small problems that they have as teenagers are so dramatic and so large that they can’t conceptualize getting through that problem. I think he just worn himself out. He had some relationships with some friends and he just thought this was his way of checking out.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You talked about your youngest who’s now … ?

Nancy Thompson:              26.

Dr. Lisa B:                                26, getting her Master’s in social work. How are your other kids doing?

Nancy Thompson:              They’re all doing really well. My oldest daughter, Molly, is expecting baby number two. My second oldest, Emily, is in South Korea with her husband, the military, has two children. My son, Russell, is at UNIM, thriving in his job and Hailey is in Richmond, Virginia. They’re all doing really well. The tightness that we always had got even tighter after we lost Timmy. It was almost like now the six of us were here against the world and we got really, really tight. It was nothing that we didn’t hold back from each other because I was nervous, not only for my husband and I, but I was nervous for the other four. I couldn’t imagine going through life losing a sibling and not being able to vent that and not being able to have that security from one another.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You’ve really maintained this positive energy in your life. You served on the board at the Center for Grieving Children and you’ve been associated with the Junior League of Portland for a long time. You obviously do a lot of speaking about Timmy and about your family’s experience and your experience. What have you learned as a result of all of this?

Nancy Thompson:              I’ve learned not to be afraid. I think from all the years that I’ve volunteered with the Junior League of Portland helped me because I volunteered in so many different capacities, working with lots of non-profits in Portland. I knew where to go to, we were instrumental in helping the Center for Grieving Children setup their organization and give them some money early on and provide volunteers.

That was a no-brainer for me. I love the center and the center is just an amazing place. It makes people whole again and I had my entire family, neighbors, friends, whoever was in the house within 48 hours, we were at the center. Patricia Allen who used to work at the center was there and was the facilitator in our deepest, darkest hour.

They were there and if I hadn’t been involved in our community, I never would’ve been able to access services right away. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m one of the lucky ones that had services right away. Then, that gave us the strength to move on but it’s easy to talk about Timmy because he’s the one who’s giving me the strength and the courage to do it. He really has.

I actually ran for public office early on because there was a vacancy and I figured maybe if I ran for office, I could possibly do some legislation for the state of Maine so people wouldn’t be so nervous talking about suicide. As it turned out, I lost. I ran not once but twice but it was a phenomenal experience.

I got to meet so many people in Augusta and I really was able to sharpen my skills in advocacy. One thing led to another and LD 609 was created and now, all the public school systems throughout the state, every person that gets a paycheck from the state of Maine. We had a school bus driver, a cafeteria worker, secretary, a teacher, admin, they all have to have some training in suicide prevention intervention and awareness.

Now, people are talking about it. Not afraid to talk about it. All they have to do is just refer out and it’s a referral. I’m hoping that those referrals would save lives. I think they have. There’s a video channel, they did a video and they show it every year. There’s a lot of really good people that are in the school systems, that have been talking this talk and walking this walk.

They’ve seen these kids come and go and it’s broken their hearts to see a lot of them not be productive members of society because we’ve lost them to suicide. They get it and they’re very appreciative. I get a tap in the shoulder at church or I get a tap in the shoulder while I’m in the Old Port, I get a tap in the shoulder no matter where I am. They say thank you and then that makes all the difference in the world.

Dr. Lisa B:                                I encourage anybody who is having difficulty with depression or thinking about suicide or knows anyone. You don’t have to be a doctor, you don’t have to be a healthcare provider, if you know that somebody is struggling, please do try to access services. There are a lot of people who are out there who are able to help and really small gestures can make a big difference. Please listen to what Nancy has been talking about and take it seriously because this is something that we are all in together. We all need to work on this together with the people in our community. I’ve been speaking with Nancy Thompson who is an insurance agent who lives in Cape Elizabeth. In 2004, her son Timmy took his life as a result of depression. Since that time, both Nancy and her husband, Tim, have been speaking publicly about their loss to save other lives. Thank you so much for coming in.

Nancy Thompson:              Thank you for having me.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 334. Our guests have included Joseph K. Loughlin, Kate Clark Flora and Nancy Thompson. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign-up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio, we welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have head about them here. We are pleased that they enabled us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee, our Editorial Producer is Brittany Cost, our Assistant Producer is Shelbi Wassick, our Community Development Manager is Casey Lovejoy and our Executive Producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #333: Jill Hinckley and Dr. Robert Snyder

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                             This is Dr Lisa Belisle and you’re listening to Love Main Radio show number 333, airing for the first time on Sunday, February 4th, 2018. Today’s guest are Jill Hinckley, owner of Hinckley Introductions, and Dr Robert Snyder, president of the Island Institute. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the old port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy and Dave Allen. For complete show details please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                             Jill Hinckley is the owner of Hinckley Introductions, a matchmaking and coaching agency based in Portland. Thanks for coming in today.

Jill Hinckley:                          Thank you so much for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             So you have an interesting business in this day and age. We used to think of matchmakers way back when, then we came into the age of Tinder and Bumble and other apps. But you’re actually, you’re kind of old school. You’re doing stuff the way that it’s been done for a long time.

Jill Hinckley:                          I’m definitely trying to take it back to a more personal connection with people. I like to connect people on a personal and meaningful way, and this is how I do it. It’s real matchmaking. It’s one-on-one, as if you’re meeting a friend of a friend. That’s how I keep working on it being a personal experience for everybody.

Lisa Belisle:                             So you grew up in, you were born in Ellsworth and you grew up in Southwest Harbor. Your grandfather started Hinckley Yachts in 1928, so this is kind of a big departure from the family business.

Jill Hinckley:                          Very big, but not really because our family, we knew everybody that built a Hinckley boat. They came, we knew the whole family. It took at least a year to build a Hinckley boat. They would come up, they would visit. We would have dinner parties with the people that were building their boats. So we really knew everybody, every customer very personally. My grandfather, when he owned the Hinckley company, we only built 12 boats a year. So each family was very important. We knew every boat, name, every customer. That was a long time ago.

Fast forward, picnic boat, a whole different world at the Hinckley company. But that’s how I grew up. I grew up with very personal relationships with people and I loved networking and getting know people. So that brought me into this, yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m guessing that there must have been a few other things that you’ve done in your life prior to now, because this is a relatively new business for you.

Jill Hinckley:                          I’ve been doing it for four years. Yes. After my family … I did work at the Hinckley company, I started when I was in high school giving tours of the Hinckley company. Went to high school, college, would come back and work in the summers on the dock. I worked in retail a lot. I am a mom with five kids, so I did a lot of staying at home with my kids while they were growing up.

Then, started working at the Hinckley company, again in their retail business. Then my father sold the Hinckley company in 1998 and I decided … I had remarried and I decided to move on and do other things. Well what I started doing was doing recruiting in the boat business. So there were other boat companies that were looking for people to work for their company, and I knew a lot of people through the Hinckley company that have worked with the Hinckley company for many years.

So that brought me into recruiting in the boat business. Which I loved, and it’s similar to matchmaking because you’re connecting businesses with employees and people, and getting to know people and interviewing people and understanding what they want, where they’re going, where they want to live. So recruiting in the boat business actually brought me to matchmaking. Kind of a round about way but I ended up here, and I love it.

Lisa Belisle:                             Was there one experience that, some sort of ah-ah moment, where you said, “Matchmaking, I’d be good with this. I think I should do this?”

Jill Hinckley:                          Well, Maine has been, was the tipping point for me, because Maine has incredible people that live here. They’re all different and diverse and have different careers. They live in different places.

I’m a lucky person, I get to live in all different parts of Maine, or go visit all different parts of Maine. So I was meeting people, sometimes from recruiting and sometimes personally, that were incredible people. I kept thinking, “You need to know this person. You need to know this person.” And then I would lose them, I would not be able to connect them.

So I started thinking, because I have all these single people I know, “How do I connect them? Do I use my recruiting skills?” You know, have them fill out my questionnaire, get to know them. So that if I do want to contact them I can reach out and have all their information. So it was really just inspired by all the great in Maine that I was trying to connect on different levels.

Lisa Belisle:                             How do you differentiate yourself as a matchmaker and your business, from the apps that we’ve mentioned? How are the people that come to see you different than the people who might say sign up for, I don’t know,

Jill Hinckley:                          I work with all, everybody. Anybody that comes into my group, there’s different levels. You can simply be in my database. It’s free, you just fill out my questionnaire and you can be free in my database. That’s just one way of putting yourself out there if you’re a single person.

I also coach people. A lot of people I work with are divorced or widowed and they haven’t been out there, and they don’t even know, there are so many incredible options. Yes, there’s Bumble and Tinder and Hinge and and eHarmony, and there’s all these different ways you can step into this dating world. So I do coaching for people, and then I do personal matchmaking.

Personal matchmaking is usually working with somebody who has a very busy life, who prefers not to go online. Probably often times because of their career or something, or just plain busy, busy. Because being online and doing these apps does take a lot of time. People sometimes don’t have that time and they say, “Okay Jill, help me out here.” What I do is I setup the dates. I get to know everybody. I background checks if that’s necessary, and really make sure that these two people are compatible before they even meet.

Lisa Belisle:                             How do you do that?

Jill Hinckley:                          Lots of questions, lots of talking and getting to know them. I try not to have people bring a big list. Like, sometimes people are like, “Okay, these are all the things I want in my next relationship. I want him to ski and do all these things.”

It’s okay to have a few things on the list but I say it’s, how does that person make you feel? How does that person … Can you sit on that porch and talk for our with that person? Is that somebody you really want to spend time with? That’s where I try to get people to focus on, not so much the list but more about the experience of being with that person.

So it’s just me, like a friend. I really get to know them and say … And you know, first dates can be tough but they can also be so much fun. You get to know somebody as a friend. That’s the worst case scenario.

Lisa Belisle:                             I was thinking about our interview with DJ Jon. He was talking to us about people who came in with big lists of do-not-play music, and how challenging that really was for him. And that as a professional, what he preferred was, “Give me a few things that you like, and then just leave it up to me. I know how to do this.” And what you’re saying is a little bit of that. You know, “I’m going to get to know you, and I’m going to make sure that we put you together with somebody who at least foundationally you some things in common.” Does that sound right?

Jill Hinckley:                          Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, obviously there’s going to be some deal breakers for people that are really important. That can be, in this crazy world we live in today, politics can be a big one. So we have to talk a little bit about politics, religion. These are things that are really important to people. So I can see by getting to know them that this is going to be a deal breaker, one way or the other. Or, wow, these two people are very compatible and can talk for hours about this subject. So worst case scenario is their first date, they just really enjoy talking to each other. You found somebody that you agree with on a lot of different levels.

Lisa Belisle:                             so how does that come up in a conversation? Do you immediately put it out there, like, “Who did you vote for?” Or do you let things go a little bit and then kind of see where they might be inclined and then ask?

Jill Hinckley:                          When I interview people and have them fill out my questionnaire, it is a question that I do ask about the politics. Some people feel very strongly about it, some people are very easy going about it, they don’t mind. These are things that I learn just because I’m doing one-on-one, and also having them fill out my questionnaire. So I know them pretty well usually.

Lisa Belisle:                             What are some of the questions that you have on your questionnaire?

Jill Hinckley:                          I ask them about their lifestyle, about politics, their religion, if they’ve been married before, what sports and activities they like to do. I sometimes ask them, “What’s a typical Sunday? What do you do on a typical Sunday?” Because a lot of times that’s the day you have a chance to spend with somebody else, and I like to see that they would do the same things, or enjoy the same things.

What other questions do I have that are on the … You know, obviously age and whether or not they have kids, and whether or not they’re willing to travel to meet a match. A lot of people love to travel to meet somebody, and some people are like, “No, no. I’d rather meet somebody just 30 minutes away from me.” So that’s another big challenge I have, is geography.

Lisa Belisle:                             Are you dealing people who are just within the state of Maine? Or do your matches go all over?

Jill Hinckley:                          I started just in Maine, but I notice a lot of the people I work with either go to Florida in the winter time, or they travel in different parts of Maine, or some people even live in Maine and travel to Boston for work. So there’s a lot of cross-state-lines activity going on. Which really the fun part for me with that is I got involved with other matchmakers.

We have a whole network of matchmakers that I work with. Sometimes I’ll work with Florida matchmakers or I’ll work with a matchmaker in Boston. I actually just opened an office in Boston myself, so I do travel a bit to meet people. That’s so fun. I get to meet the most incredible people. So I cannot complain about that. But yes, a lot people are outside of Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             That’s so fun, the idea that there’s all these other matchmakers out there in the world. I hadn’t really ever thought about that. I guess my daughter has watched a reality show about some sort of matchmaker somewhere, so….

Jill Hinckley:                          I’m sure she has, those are fun.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah. I mean, I knew that that existed but I think it shows that there’s still this need for a personal connectivity, even that you have at your fingertips the computer that you could use or your phone. That some people really just prefer to have somebody that they can talk to who can help them out.

Jill Hinckley:                          Absolutely. I love that, because people have so many questions about this, and no two people are going to have the same experience. Everybody comes at this from a different direction, different point of view, a different experience. And that’s the fun for me, is I get to know them individually, work with them, and I love working with other matchmakers.

If another matchmaker in Boston, for example, has a client they’re working with, they might contact me and see if anybody in my database or anybody I’m working with might match up with their client. She knows, that other matchmaker knows her client. I know my client. So we get together, we talk about our clients that we’re working with. Often times that’s really fun because they go out and have a great date, and you meet somebody you never would have met if you hadn’t signed up with a matchmaker.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do the people that you work with tend to be older? People who, as you just mentioned, maybe are widowed or divorced, or maybe just have never gotten married?

Jill Hinckley:                          Definitely. I work with 40 and up, but I do have other matchmakers that I do work with that work with a younger crowd. It’s just a matter of staying focused on my … I’m 54 years old. I tend to work with that crowd a little bit better than the younger crowd. It’s just a different … but that’s why I think, when you sign up with a matchmaker, it’s really important that you connect with that matchmaker, that you feel like that matchmaker gets you. I just feel like I’m really good with the 40 and up crowd, and maybe not so focused on the younger crowd.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you notice that people who have gone through some of these fairly traumatic things in their lives, loss of a spouse or divorce even. Do you notice that they’re still working through things? Is this ever something that comes up for you in conversation with them?

Jill Hinckley:                          Definitely. Definitely. I mean, you have to be ready. Timing is really important for matchmaking, because we jump right on it. We get excited about meeting you. You know, who are we going to set you up with? So you have to be ready or your schedule has to be. You have to fit this into your life.

And sometimes, emotionally I find that people are just not really ready for this. They’re not really sure how this is all going to play out for them. So another thing I love to do is network with people, life coaches, therapists, make-up artists and photographers. I mean any resource that that person I feel like needs.

Sometimes people haven’t had their picture taken in … I mean, they take pictures of everybody else but they haven’t had a picture taken of themselves in like five years. So I’ll send them to a photographer, and then they’ll be so excited because they finally have a great picture of themselves. It just makes them feel good and that’s a great way to put yourself out. I tell them, “Put it on your Facebook page. Get excited. Go out there and attend more events.”

So yeah, everybody comes at it, and I sort of think of tweaking them a little bit. “Okay, I’m going to send you down this road for a little while,” and then they’re really ready for this. But not everybody comes ready to go.

Lisa Belisle:                             So if they needed to process their grief for example, you could say refer them to a counselor. Or if they just needed some, I don’t know, hair advice, you could send them towards somebody who could help them with maybe something that’s not quite as deep seated. And people generally are okay with this sort of advice coming from you.

Jill Hinckley:                          Generally, yeah. I think they’re generally excited about it. Because this is a big step for a lot of people that haven’t been out in the dating world for a long time, so we try to take baby steps. We don’t want to throw them into this without all the tools they need to get through this experience. So it is baby steps, but hopefully they’re happy with that. Yeah, it works well.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think that some of the patients that I see, that they want to jump right back into. Say maybe they lost their spouse suddenly, and they’ve never been alone and they want to jump right back into a relationship. I have seen this happen more than once, where … Or even a divorce, where somebody, it’s just immediately into the dating pool. And it doesn’t always work out that well because they needed to put some closure on the relationship they had, to grieve that relationship before they could move on. When that happens, do you say, “Hey, come back and see these other people? The counselor, the somebody else that you might meet, you know, your pastor, and then come back in a few months?”

Jill Hinckley:                          Absolutely. What I would suggest in that situation is for those people to be in my database. My database is quite large, because it’s a free database and people come into my database. I only work with 10 to 15 people personally a year. So those people I know, and I don’t sign anybody up for that unless I know they’re ready.

So be in my database is kind of fun for people, because that’s the baby step. And then if I have somebody I’m working with, I’ll contact them and I’ll say, “Okay, how are you doing? Are you ready for this? This is an opportunity I have for you.” And then can pass. They can say, “You know, I’m not really ready right now.” Or, “Yeah, you know, it’s been a few months since I’ve joined your database and now I’m ready.”

I check in with everybody to make sure they are ready for this, and usually they are. I have great, fun people that are using me as one of their resources if they’re in my database, because I want them to be out on Bumble and try new things, be on Facebook.

Non-profits is a really big thing for me. I tell all my single people that I get a chance to, and now I’m on the radio so I can tell them. Go to non-profit events. Join something in your community. Get involved people that are giving to their community. That’s where you want to be. You want to be out and about. You don’t want to be sitting in my database waiting for something to happen. Which is great, I want you to be there too, but also I want my people to be out and about and meeting new people. That’s the best.

Lisa Belisle:                             When you are out and about in various capacities, are you constantly thinking, “Is this person single? She or he could match up with somebody else.”

Jill Hinckley:                          Maybe. Possibly, yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             I can just see the computer kind of going on in your head.

Jill Hinckley:                          My antennas are up. I’m looking all around. Yeah. I try to put myself out there too, because I want to on behalf on my clients be out there, meeting people, networking. And yeah, sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s hard to put myself out there because I’m generally not as outgoing as my husband is for example. He’s the one that’s much more outgoing. But we play off each other. He says, “Okay, there’s this event. Let’s go.” And I love that about my relationship with my husband, because it creates this opportunity for me to meet new people and to put myself out there.

Lisa Belisle:                             That’s an important point, that you wouldn’t always want to have your list of what you want in someone, because maybe you actually want somebody who complements you, and it’s possible you don’t even know what that looks like.

Jill Hinckley:                          100% agree with you. Absolutely. If I had had a list, I would not be married to my husband right now. Although we complement each other so well, and we laugh, we have fun, and we have difference that we celebrate about each other. But we also have some core values and things that bring us together. We’re very family-oriented with our kids, and we love to do certain activities together.

One of the things we love is the ocean. We do love to go boating, and that was really important to me because I love the ocean so much, to be able to share with somebody. But we’re very different human beings, very different. Now I laugh about it but at the time I was like, “I don’t know, he’s so different from me.” Yeah, I look for opposites. I think opposites attract.

Lisa Belisle:                             You said you have five kids. What do they all think of what their mamma’s doing these days?

Jill Hinckley:                          Some think it’s really fun and funny, and some are like, “I can’t believe, I’m telling anybody you’re doing this.” No, they’re just, my 15 year old I embarrass her completely. My older kids are 25, 27, 28 and 30, so they’re pretty proud of me because I’m having fun with this. I ask them about all the apps, “Okay, tell me how do you use Bumble?” Because I’m not on these apps, I need them to teach me how to use these apps, and then I pass that information on to my clients. So they’re big help to me. They’re great.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, and to be fair, pretty much any 15 year old, probably 15 year old girl is probably going to have some embarrassment about a parent. So I doubt very much it’s specific to your child and your profession.

Jill Hinckley:                          [crosstalk 00:21:52] not, but yes. Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             You’ve gone through this four other times, so I’m guessing that you have a sense, it will probably shift at some point.

Jill Hinckley:                          Exactly, I hope so. Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yes. What is it that you hope to see your business do? You’ve been doing this for four years. You’ve opened an office in Boston. Where do you hope to go from here?

Jill Hinckley:                          Well, I want us to stay very personal. No, I don’t want to be a big company, but I love being able to meet new people. It brings so much energy to my life and so much fun. I work with my assistant, [Caroline Clement 00:22:32], who I work with. She and I, we talk about different clients together, and who we should introduce to other people. We setup dates. I mean, to keep it going the same way it’s going right now would be the way I’d want to do it. Just as personal as possible.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is it something that’s easily scalable? When you think of business, and you’re doing that’s very personal, and Caroline is doing something that’s very personal, how many more offices in different cities could you actually support?

Jill Hinckley:                          I don’t think I’d want to, but yes, matchmakers do go big. There are some big matchmakers out there that are in New York, California. You can join a matchmaker and they can have multiple offices. So the sky is the limit really in this world. But I prefer to be a smaller matchmaker, more regional in who I’m working with, than to have corporate offices all over the country. But yeah, you can, and I have clients that come to me that live that lifestyle. That say, “I have a home in New York, and I have a home in Maine, and I actually have a place in Santa Fe, New Mexico.” So they might want to work with one of those big matchmakers, because they actually do have offices in all those locations.

So actually, I do refer people to other matchmakers that are doing that. That’s why I say it’s a very personal experience. Each matchmaker has a specialty. I do focus a lot on people that love to sail and the ocean, so I get a lot of that. I market kind of towards that client. Whereas other matchmakers will work with people that maybe travel a lot or are all over. I work with matchmakers in Europe. I’ll have a client that lives in Portland, Maine, that travels a lot and wants to meet somebody outside of this country, so I’ll setup him up, or her up, with another matchmaking outside of this country.

It’s a very vast network that you get to be part of when you join this. I’m part of the Matchmaker Institute. We actually take this very seriously and it’s confidential information that we’re sharing between matchmakers. Yeah, it’s been a very serious career. It’s very fun. It’s great.

Lisa Belisle:                             I had no idea that there was such a thing as a matchmaker institute.

Jill Hinckley:                          And a matchmaker conference, we meet every year and we collaborate and we have guest speakers that talk about social media and all the different things that go with matchmaking.

Lisa Belisle:                             That must be a very social kind of experience going to a matchmaker conference.

Jill Hinckley:                          It’s great. It’s great. They’re great people. They’re really fun.

Lisa Belisle:                             I was going to say, I go to doctor conferences, we’re all a little bit withdrawn. So mostly we just kind of sit by ourselves and occasionally smile to each other. But I’m thinking, if you go to a matchmaker conference you’re probably very outgoing with one another.

Jill Hinckley:                          Right. Sometimes we bump into problems. There will be things, that we’ll have a difficult situation that we’re trying to navigate, and the matchmakers will help each other. We actually have a closed Facebook page that we talk to each other, if there’s something that comes up that we need to figure out, or get someone else’s advice. That’s another reason, it’s I’m not alone when I’m doing this. So I don’t know why I would need to expand too much, because I have this resource right here that I can talk to matchmakers all over the world.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jill tell me about your one favorite success story.

Jill Hinckley:                          My one favorite success story.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m sure you have many.

Jill Hinckley:                          Right. Okay. I have … I can’t tell you anything about the person because her life is very private. She was living outside of Augusta. She contacted me. She found me on the internet, and she has a fascinating career, but I couldn’t tell anybody what her career was. I had to screen everybody extensively before they met her. So I had to make sure that they didn’t have a criminal record, but they also couldn’t have worked for certain state agencies, and they couldn’t have … The screening process was really extensive, that I was putting people through to meet her.

I was worried that, boy, I was going to scare people off, because I couldn’t tell them anything about her. But she was so interesting, so intelligent. I would be talking to her for hours on the phone, getting to know her, but then I couldn’t tell the person that she was going to meet on the first date her last name. I mixed up her first name so that they would never be able to Google her and find her. It was like a very extensive process. I think I set her up on three dates. By the third date she met this guy that I had known. I had been meeting … You talk about not being ready, he wasn’t really ready. He had come and I’d met him, but there was timing.

Then I just had this moment where I thought, “This guy is perfect for her.” So I reached back out to him, set them up on a date. And gosh, they were, immediately, they were both a little quirky but oh my gosh, they had so much fun. They connected on so many levels. So for her to be so happy, and I actually think that they’ve been going, they’ve been spending, they’ve been together for several months now. She’ll check in with me and tell me how happy they are. I’m just so happy, because she really was one of those people that could not put herself out there at all, and had to be really careful about who she met. That does make it a little challenging for a matchmaker, because I can’t tell anybody much about her, so a lot of people are very apprehensive, but she’s really happy. I love that.

The other people I have in matchmaking is I cannot give you much information about who I work with. So testimonials are hard, because my clients want to have a pretty private experience with this, and I get that. So I’m pretty careful about not giving too much information out.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, it sounds to me like you have people that are coming to work with you who’d kind of understand that, that testimonials are just not going to be a thing. Which is probably not the worst thing, right?

Jill Hinckley:                          Right, right. Although it’s frustrating because I want to just tell everybody how much fun this is and who I setup, but I can’t. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can tell people. I ask them if it’s okay, if I can say that I introduced you or something. But yeah, I’ve been doing it for four years now, so I have a lot of couples that have met each other. And sometimes I lose track of them too because I might introduce them, and sometimes people will meet and then they decide it’s not a match, but then they connect later and then they are going out. I’m like, “Wait a minute. I thought … ” So yes, people are moving around, a little bit hard for me to track them down.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, I appreciate you’re coming in and talking with me today. I’ve been speaking with Jill Hinckley who is the owner of Hinckley Introductions, a matchmaking and coaching agency based in Portland. Thanks for the work you’re doing.

Jill Hinckley:                          Thank you so much. That was really fun.

Lisa Belisle:                             It was really fun, I agree.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port, where everybody is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             Dr Robert Snyder is the president of the Island Institute. He is responsible for working with island and coastal leaders in Maine to identify and invest in innovative approaches to community sustainability. Nice to have you here today.

Rob Snyder:                           Thank you very much for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s okay for me to call you Rob.

Rob Snyder:                           Please, it’s my preference.

Lisa Belisle:                             What is your doctorate in?

Rob Snyder:                           It’s in cultural anthropology. That turns out to be a fairly useful degree despite my parents’ concerns. What they do teach you in anthropology is how to turn people into your teachers, how to learn to listen and how to write. I can’t imagine skills that would be more important than entering the coast of Maine from away and trying to navigate your way.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was your focus? If you are an anthropologist who has a doctorate, there must have been some area of study.

Rob Snyder:                           Sure. I began actually in China with a focus on international development and the critique of international development. So it’s a little bit ironic that I now run a community development organization, but that’s my background. I moved from there to focus on Maine fisheries, big shift. Left China, came to Maine, and started to focus on the privatization of the ocean as a process that was underway here. There was a major piece of work that took place around 2010, where New England fisheries moved to a new management system. Where quota became the management device, the idea that you could own pounds of fish in the ocean with a permit. So I was part of studying the creation of that program, that management system, and I did that for my PhD ultimately.

Lisa Belisle:                             You’re from Cleveland, Ohio.

Rob Snyder:                           That’s correct.

Lisa Belisle:                             So, China and fisheries didn’t necessarily enter into your early childhood years I would guess.

Rob Snyder:                           No. I’ve always made quality of life choices once I had the chance to make those choices. So I lived out west after living in Cleveland for a decade. Then I moved to Toronto where I did my PhD, and then after my wife and decided we wanted to live somewhere where it would be great to raise our family. I either wanted to live in The Rockies or on the ocean, and so because of her family being from New England we chose Maine and the ocean. That was 15 years ago.

Lisa Belisle:                             What has it been like to go from this, I mean Cleveland is a fairly big urban developed part of the United States, China is obviously, urban, developed. And now you’re working in Maine and you’re working with very small communities. How has that been like from a mindset shift?

Rob Snyder:                           It was really difficult. It took a long time for me to figure out how to make sense of where I had landed in Maine. Took me literally five or six years, at least, before I started to feel like I could understand what was going on around me, because of the tight-knit nature of the communities and the people’s reliance on each other. These were not skills I was raised with. I tended to live in place that had been the outcome of sprawl. So people building rings further and further out into the countryside from Cleveland. Each generation of my family lives farther and farther from the city center, and that’s just kind of the way I experienced growing up.

There was a element to it which I think you would find in many different areas of the country. There was the idea that I was kind of coming from anywhere in the country. So the idea that you could come from a fairly ambiguous anywhere, and land in a very specific somewhere, where people have an incredible attachment to place and pride of place, and frankly a cautionary kind of acceptance of people, was really interesting and challenging. When I realized the intensity of the identity that people have who are from here, it also made me realize the way I need to position myself relative to that is pretty important, particularly working in a non-profit.

Lisa Belisle:                             So how did you position yourself? How have you been … I guess, it’s probably a work in progress, I would assume.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. No, I think I’m definitely a work in a progress. The way that I’ve started out and where I’ve kind of been for a number of years, is this idea of the professional outsider, right? Because people seem pretty willing to allow you to be in place here in Maine as somebody who acknowledges their away-ness. Far more so than if you show up and you try to claim any sort of origin from here.

It’s been very I think in a way safe and productive to say even, “I am from away, and there can be value in that. Let me try to articulate that value.” So I spend a lot of time trying to provide value to coastal and island communities based on my very specific position as an outsider.

And then 15 years later, continuing to navigate that, but also now with children in schools and with a attachment to my community, recognizing that there are ways in which people are more willing to hear what I have to say, but there’s still plenty of skepticism. And I think that’s why the coast and islands are so beautiful and different, is because of that caution and concern for continuity in place, right? That people want to … change comes hard here, and because it comes hard it keeps these places really special, and that’s wired into the DNA of those who have been here for generations.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting to hear you say this, because obviously we all know that you can’t be from Maine unless, not only you were born in Maine, but you also have several generations back.

Rob Snyder:                           It’s my understanding.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yes.

Rob Snyder:                           So my kid’s kids-

Lisa Belisle:                             Exactly.

Rob Snyder:                           … will finally be able to claim status, potentially.

Lisa Belisle:                             Potentially, yes. [crosstalk 00:37:05]

Rob Snyder:                           Depends how they behave.

Lisa Belisle:                             Exactly. And yet, there are so many people who are coming in who are supporting island communities who are not from Maine at all, weren’t born here. Maybe they have a summer connection, maybe they went to summer camp and feel a connection to Maine, but there isn’t the same type of background.

So I would think that that would be one of the challenges of the Island Institute is working with, is that people can contribute in really wonderful ways and be very different people from very different places, but it’s still a small community.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. I think one of the challenges is figuring out how to draw attention to and celebrate the ways in which people who may be globally networked and have significant resources can participates in the future of these communities. It’s a huge part of the struggle that these communities are engaged in on a year to year basis.

And so what I’ve found, my experience has been that there are very important people in each community. There are groups of people who I kind of view as bridging personalities. People who may be from the community but have gone away and returned, or people who have been summering for many generations in these communities but they’ve built the trust of many different communities within any one of Maine’s coastal communities. And those bridged personalities play a hugely important role, primarily a communication role, which is about helping people talk about and think about how they’re interests can be joined together from all the different facets of any small community.

I mean, some of the communities we work in have 35 people or 45 people, and 45 different points of view much of the time. As a result, you know, it takes a very special person to be able to navigate that, to be able to allow people to feel heard on all sides, allow people to make community-wide investments in their future. Whether it’s in their school or some other challenge that they’re trying to address.

Lisa Belisle:                             So your background in cultural anthropology might actually be a benefit in this situation, where you can observe what is going on and figure out the best way to involved or step back, depending upon the needs.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah, I think one of the things that I really enjoy is helping people connect with each other and helping people connect the dots. One of the things that you have when you are not of the place and is a bit of an opportunity, that you don’t have the political weight of your family history, which is significant.

So where and when that can be helpful, to say, “Hey, here’s a resource over here you might consider,” or, “Here’s a person over there you might talk to.” That can be a useful way to help people move community issues forward. I just have to say, I don’t think I answered that question very well, so …

Lisa Belisle:                             Actually I thought it came up fine. I don’t know.

Rob Snyder:                           Well, can you say the question again?

Lisa Belisle:                             Spencer, are you happy with the answer? Does it seem like it made sense? I mean essentially I asked, does your background in cultural … It seems like your background in cultural anthropology might be helpful.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. I think, I mean it’s been very helpful for me to figure out how to navigate all of this. I feel like one of the things that you have to do when you’re working in and partnering with community leaders, is understand that whatever problem you’re trying to solve, whether it’s attracting and retaining families, or whether it is about dealing with the threats of storm surge, or whether it’s dealing with the way the lobster industry is generating wealth or creating different types of social issues. Every one of those challenges, often people are looking for folks with resources to bring to bear on answering that question. So if you can hear the question really well and you can actually understand the nuances of the questions that people are trying to answer in their community, then you are better prepared to bring the right resources to help them answer it.

Lisa Belisle:                             You know, that’s such an interesting perspective on things, because I know that when I’m with a patient one-on-one, in a situation, or a patient’s family, often the question that’s being asked or the statement that’s being made is not the real question or the real statement. So there’s a teasing back to try to determine what the actual issues are, and that requires a lot of trust. It requires a lot of relationship building. It requires both people, or all the people involved be open to talking things out, to hashing through problems. And that’s not something that everybody, and I’m not saying I’m perfect at it, but it’s not something that everybody feels that comfortable with doing, nor are we trained to do it.

Rob Snyder:                           Right. No, I think that’s a great observation. I mean, I think about how busy people are in their daily lives and how many different hats they would wear on a given day in a community. They might be on the school board and on the select board, and they’re also an EMT, and they’re involved in … they have so many different things going on.

And so when you come and want to talk about how you can be helpful, you’re a burden in asking the question even. So trying to provide the space … So right to your point, this is where trust really does matter, where relationships and real intention to care and to act and not just to sit and think about other people’s challenges is really important. If we don’t actually find a way to be responsive we would lose the trust.

People finally, after 34 years, not finally but just, you know, certainly over time people have become much more willing to give us that time to share their stories and their concerns, with the expectation that something will come of it. Right? That something will happen. And that’s just, I think to me very much fundamental to being successful in our work, is that, are those relationships and that trust that comes with being responsive.

Lisa Belisle:                             The Island Institute, although it’s 34 years old, has not had that many people who were president. So you’re in a fairly small lineage.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah, I’m number two.

Lisa Belisle:                             So how has that been for you? To have one person who was the head for many, many years, and then for you to be the second person. The first person I believe was one of the founders.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah, Philip was the founder. Philip Conkling was the founder of the Island Institute, and then there’s a co-founder, Peter Ralston, who came along shortly after. I worked with them for a long time before I became the president of the organization. They taught me a lot. A lot about the difficulty of navigating community politics, the challenges of building the funding base for an organization, about … I mean, one of the things I really enjoyed about being mentored by both of them was their consummate passion for storytelling.

They were both, they both are incredible storytellers. And so there’s so much heart in the way they cared about telling the stories of the coast of Maine in images and words, and that’s something that I’ve known I really want to hold onto. Because I do think that’s how you amplify people’s voice. It’s how you empower people to try things out and to take risks, by helping them tell their stories.

And so, they were incredible. Being number two was … So far I think I’ve defied the odds. Most people say, “You don’t want to be the one that comes after the founder. You want to be the one that comes after the one who comes after the founder.” But hey, I’m only four years in, so I’ve got ways to go.

Lisa Belisle:                             The Island Institute does have very beautiful publications, and has had it seem like going back to the beginning.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah, it was the first thing they ever did, was the Island Journal.

Lisa Belisle:                             And I think when you say the importance of story is really significant, I think that can’t be understated. That people, unless they actually have a way of understanding what is going on in these communities, you wouldn’t be able to come, take it from your own life. I eman, you could relate in many ways, but it’s so special and specific.

Rob Snyder:                           I think so. I think it’s about, because it’s about identity, right? It actually is about how we remind ourselves of who we are. It’s where we talk about the struggles over who we’re becoming? And so the better job we do at capturing that in words and images, the more likely we are to help people navigate the day-to-day challenges that they deal with.

I think the journal, which is primarily something that goes to our members, a number of whom are island and coastal residents, is this incredible celebration of island and coastal … actually it’s really a celebration of island life and culture. But then the newspaper, which has a much, much broader readership, that really does on a monthly basis remind us of who we are, what our values, what we care about and what we’re concerned about. It think that to me is a, as an anthropologist, a major identity project. That’s how we’re going to continue to talk about and struggle over our future and who we’re becoming.

Lisa Belisle:                             One of the most fascinating things that I’ve learned working as a writer for Maine Magazine, previously as a writer for other publications, is that, the idea that you can’t fact-check something and that there is a truth that we can come to and understand, is really a fallacy. That you can check numbers, you can check dates and spellings, but the more important thing for people is often what they said and how they’ve said it, and the way they’re portrayed. In a small community and as someone who writes about small communities and represents them, that must be an interesting balance for you.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. I mean, I think to me it’s one of the greatest responsibilities the organization has, is to be very careful about that, frankly, the power wrapped up in representation. So to me, we’re at our best when it’s actually other people speaking for themselves, rather than the Island Institute speaking for.

I think that the singular authoritative voice speaking on behalf of anybody is long done, and we’re certainly coming to a close. What we want to figure out how to do now is to kind of facilitate and curate the creation, the representation of people in their own words. That’s kind of how we’re moving.

So rather than the expression of these communities as something you move past or through in visual and words, how do we actually have communities represented on their own terms, for selling their own stories and where we are simply facilitating and curating. So that the best quality version of that can be made available. That is a major emphasis in how we’ve continued to evolve our media work. I think things like virtual reality give you an even more intense opportunity for people to tell their own story from their own perspective in ways that …

And you know, I think shows like this do it as well because it is in the inflection of a voice or you know, in a local statement or colloquialism, that you actually get a real sense for where you are and where people are coming from.

Lisa Belisle:                             What are the major issues that you are working on right now?

Rob Snyder:                           Sure. Well, ultimately we’re very concerned about the economic base of the coast of Maine being so heavily reliant on the lobster fishery and tourism, primarily third quarter earnings from tourism. And so we’re really trying to figure out how we can broaden the economic opportunities available to people now and in the future.

There are a few major focus areas that have to do with that. So building out from the lobster fishery, trying to … we’re working with fishermen who are interested in entering into the aquaculture business, shellfish and kelp aquaculture in particular, because of the related skillsets and infrastructure that many fishermen already have. It’s a fairly … I want to say, there are some risks involved but it’s risk that can be understood and mitigated if people are interested in diversifying their marine income. Kind of back to the identity issues, right?

One of the things we know is really important is that people care that they’re living requires some significant connection to the sea. Whether or not it’s fishing for what’s here today or what’s here tomorrow, that is a huge part of the coast of Maine’s identity. And so we know that was look to the future economy, we want to make sure that we retain that important connection.

And then in addition to that, looking to your point about whether people are here and going away and returning, or coming from elsewhere. We know that the state of Maine’s broadband infrastructure on the coast is essential to diversifying economic opportunities for people. There’s tremendous amount of stranded talent in communities. People who have gone away, gotten their education, and can’t put it to work in the ways that they would like. And so we do see broadband as a fundamental issue for the economic future of the coast. Certainly this is something people recognize nationally, but I think we have a unique opportunity to do something about it here.

And then the last thing I’ll point to is the work we’re doing to help people save on energy. We are a very high cost energy state. The coast and islands are even more so. And so these communities have to be places where businesses will want to locate, and the cost of energy is a major disincentive, but also just the cost that we spend on home heating. What we spend in Maine to heat our homes is in particularly the highest in the nation, and so anything we can do there will help people find Maine a more attractive place to stay or to move to.

Those are some of our key issues, and then underneath that, you know, we are working quite a bit on workforce development related to those outcomes, and also leadership development in communities related to those outcomes. So yeah, it’s really about strengthening community economies. It’s about workforce and leadership, and then all that media work we’ve talked about is really about sharing what works from place to place, and helping people speed up the rate at which they solve problems.

Lisa Belisle:                             You mentioned before we came on the air that despite the fact that I think of Cleveland as being kind of landlocked, I know there’s a big lake there. As I have mentioned to you, I’ve been there. There actually is a significant island culture, [crosstalk 00:54:05] the great lakes.

Rob Snyder:                           Around the great lakes we have learned over the last six or seven years now we’ve been working with the Office of the Great Lakes, which is based in Michigan. They became very attracted to the Maine islands because there are 16 island communities in the great lakes, year-round island communities that actually share many of similar challenges around affordability, around access to broadband and future economic opportunity.

So yeah, they’ve been working with the Island Institute. We’ve been connecting them to the Maine Island’s Collation and to Island leaders in Maine, you know, learn how the coast of Maine has gone about connecting island communities. Through us we’re helping a couple of different organizations in the Michigan area figure out how to replicate the Island Institute.

Lisa Belisle:                             That seems like it would be a little bit surprising. Here you are from Ohio, and you’re background actually has some relevant to the work you’re doing in Maine.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. I feel like I’m really more and more aware of the fact that really what we are working on are challenges that remote communities everywhere are dealing with. When I lived in the high mountain west, I saw this. We’ve been invited to the Outer Banks and to the Virgin Islands and to the Gulf of Alaska. In each of these places there are island, many different kinds of island communities, whether they are landlocked or not, there are island all over the place.

And so they’re curious about the Island Institute and what can be learned from the coast of Maine’s island and coastal communities. I think as we move forward as an organization we have to figure out what role we want to play in being the host to that type of learning. I do think the coast of Maine is … I do think there’s a real opportunity and it’s happening, that the coast of Maine is viewed as a place where you can come to learn about community sustainability from people here who’ve solved really challenging problems in really practical ways. I think it appears that the leaders we work with here are happy to tell their story.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’ve been speaking with Dr Robert Snyder who is president of the Island Institute. He is responsible for working with island and coastal leaders in Maine to identify and invest in innovative approaches to community sustainability. This has been a fascinating conversation. I think what you’re doing is very interesting and I really appreciate the time that you have taken to come here today, and also the work you’re doing with the Island Institute.

Rob Snyder:                           Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port, where everybody is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio show number 333. Our guests have included Jill Hinckley and Dr Robert Snyder. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr Lisa, and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr Lisa Belisle, thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producer is Brittany Cost. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy. And our executive producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano and Dr Lisa Belisle. For more in on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #332: Matty Oates and Jessica Jordan

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                             This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 332. Airing for the first time on Sunday, January 28, 2018. Today’s guests are Matty Oates, former program director of Tall Ships Portland and young breast cancer survivor Jessica Jordan, this year’s top fundraiser for Tri for a Cure. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                             Matty Oates is the former program director for Tall Ships Portland and he currently works as media manager at Shipyard Brewing Company. He and his brother also host a podcast called Bach to Bock in which they discuss both classical music and beer. Thanks for coming in.

Matty Oates:                          Thank you. Happy New Year.

Lisa Belisle:                             Thank you. So did I pronounce this correctly, Bach to Bocks. It’s B-A-C-H and then B-O-C-K.

Matty Oates:                          Bach to Bock, yeah. It’s seen a lot of variations over the years. Bach being Johann Sebastian Bach the composer and then B-O-C-K, Bock is a type of German beer. We thought we were pretty clever when we came up with that name. There was beer involved in creating that name as well so it came out pretty well.

Lisa Belisle:                             How long have you been doing this podcast.

Matty Oates:                          We just hit two years. We’ve gone through a little bit of a lull at the moment just because both of us lead fairly busy lives. Getting content out there’s been a bit tough recently. But it’s always a lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of great chances to interact with the local music community and both beer and classical music community around the country as well through phone interviews or visiting musicians. It’s been great.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is this becoming more popular? Beer and classical music?

Matty Oates:                          From our very biased perspective I’d like to think so. There’s a great organization of talent run by the PSO called Symphony in Spirits. Takes young folks from 21 to 39 and rotates through different local watering holes before PSO concerts. There’s either a beer or a cocktail designed specifically for the program coming up. For 25 bucks it’s a chance for young people to mingle, learn a little bit about the program before they all they just walk down to Merrill Auditorium and get to see an amazing performance. All in all the scene’s coming up slowly but it’s coming up.

Lisa Belisle:                             I remember interviewing Emily Isaacson and she had beer happening on beach blankets in the summertime and at the bowling alley and she’s really trying to bring this back to into the more popular vernacular.

Matty Oates:                          Yeah. Why not? We’ve created this mystique around classical music that you need to sit in a seat and be completely docile and quiet and we love the idea that if you really appreciate, just like a jazz musician, a solo finishes, it shouldn’t be taboo to express that in some way, shape or form. There used to be beer concert halls, why can’t there just be beer again? We think it’s a good combo it breeds, in moderation it breeds a really good time, a really good night out.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you still play the violin.

Matty Oates:                          Absolutely. I still teach a bit as well. Kevin and I both, my brother Kevin Oates, both started quite young. I saw Elmo playing on Sesame Street with Itzhak Perlman the great violinist when I was three. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. So after pestering my parents weeks in weeks out, I finally started taking around four years old and now it’s just a great release. It’s like an old friend. But Kevin’s taken it to a much more professional degree whereas I keep it on the back burner.

Lisa Belisle:                             He’s working with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra and also the Maine Academy of Modern Music is that right?

Matty Oates:                          He did in the past but Kev’s now out on his own as the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra is its own nonprofit entering their, they’ve just past their third year. They’ve just released a documentary as well about their tour that they took. The Maine Youth Rock Orchestra for those who don’t know, it’s a chance for students 12 to 18 to take their classical instrument or their orchestral instruments and play with visiting rock bands. They’ve played with Spencer Albee, they’ve played with what’s him name? They’ve played with Guster this past year at Thompson’s Point. Gregory Alan Isakov, lot of great names. It’s a chance for kids to realize that their instruments aren’t just to be relegated to the formal concert hall but they can take it and they can use it in every way, shape and form in every genre of music out there. It’s a really wonderful nonprofit. People should check it out.

Lisa Belisle:                             So you’re actually now doing the media for your brother.

Matty Oates:                          Oh no.

Lisa Belisle:                             I was just kidding. I was just kidding. Just putting that nice plug in. He’s appreciative of that, the sibling love that you were giving him.

Matty Oates:                          Oh go yeah. No absolutely. He’s the reason I moved here to Maine. I was out overseas for a very long time and I just saw him doing really amazing things here with MYRO and I saw a chance to come back to the US and he was the reason. And hence Portland. And I got to see him build this thing from nothing to a really successful nonprofit.

Lisa Belisle:                             Where did you grow up?

Matty Oates:                          Albany New York. It’s on the way to everywhere but there’s a lot of people from upstate New York that have come up to Portland. I don’t know what that says about both places but we grew up on a farm in Albany New York and we used to come up to Ogunquit. Our grandparents had a cottage there since the 40s so from the earliest age we were just running on Ogunquit Beach. And then the early 90s when it blew up and Route 1 became a parking lot and so Kev went to school at USM Gorham and he came back then afterwards and then I followed so we’ve always had this love affair with Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             What were you doing in Europe?

Matty Oates:                          I was racing classic yachts. We were based out of the south of France. Yeah, it was the greatest job of all. It was 1911 big boat classic called Mariquita. There was only four made back in the day. It’s the equivalent of the America’s Cup boats of today. It was based out of the south of France and we would spend the summers racing around the Mediterranean and hitting up all through the Rivieras and the Balearics and and then the winter we would just take care of this boat which needed an amazing amount of work. And just traveling and exploring. It was fantastic.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m trying to remember my geography but I don’t think that Albany has a lot of ocean around it.

Matty Oates:                          It does not have a lot of ocean. You are absolutely right. When I tell people I used work on boats, that’s actually the first thing they say is, “There’s not a lot of oceanfront.” My very first boat was the sloop Clearwater which was started by Pete Seeger back in the late 60s. He had built this as a replica of a 17th Dutch sloop to bring focus back to the cleaning up of the Hudson. This was right around the time of the 1972 Clean Water Act. That huge spurt of environmental legislation around that time. This a rallying point for him to start cleaning up the river. That was my very first boat. I had gone hitchhiking abroad for five months when I was 18 and I came back and I just took the first job that I could find which happened to be on this boat. I’d never sailed before. That was the beginning of the end.

Lisa Belisle:                             That unusual isn’t it? Don’t most people get into sailing or boats because they’ve grown up with it essentially?

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, I was one of the few people that hadn’t ever been on a boat before. Everyone else had grown up sailing Optis and J-boats. Especially around here in Maine sailing is such a, Casco Bay is one of the greatest spots in the world to grow up sailing. That was, I was a rarity in that case. But I just fell in love with it. I wasn’t even onboard the boat, I was still a quarter mile away and I could see the top of the mast from over this hill and that was it, I was a goner.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was it that I guess spoke to you about that? That scene, the top of the mast that was calling to you from afar?

Matty Oates:                          I still don’t know if I can put it into words but it is, in the beginning, there’s the romance of it. There is what we all picture tall sailing to be or sailing of old to be. Wind through your hair, salt spray and all that jazz. That is the hook. That’s what got me in. But then everything else that came after. The intense discipline. The need to care for the ship, care for your shipmates. An amazingly tight community and honestly the life skills that came out of it I think it was probably the best education I could have ever hoped for.

Just the learning empathy, learning, not that I didn’t have it before but being able to realize small social dynamics within a team and really trying to take that on and come up with a great result each day and learn to keep a cool head when everything’s falling apart around you. When stuff’s breaking, when there’s a storm at four AM and you are in the middle of the Atlantic. That kind of stuff that’s a forge that you don’t find a lot of other places. That’s what kept me, just this completely different universe.

Lisa Belisle:                             You worked as the program director for Tall Ships Portland. Tell me about that.

Matty Oates:                          I came to Portland, came off boats, came to Portland and again was going to just take on any job that came my way. I was just happy to be around my brother again. We were just perusing jobs online one night and Kev goes, “Matty, you seen this?” And sure enough here was a call for a program director for the local nonprofit 501C3 Tall Ships Portland. They were formed in 2015 to help put on the Tall Ships Festival that came through that year. They were going to take on their first full-time employee. I sat down with their board president, Alex Agnew and were meant to have a quick 30 minute coffee, it ended up as four hours talking about sailing. As sailors do we just ramble which I’m doing right now. That was the beginning of the end.

We had two great summers of sailing programs. The main mission, most people think it’s a nonprofit that does events. The events help fuel the real mission which is youth education at sea. The idea that getting teenagers out, high schoolers out is one of the best ways that they can, I don’t even know the right word here, it’s one of the best educations they can ever hope for. They learn how to sail but the sailing’s just almost a metaphor, it’s just the best classroom. They learn the same things I got to learn. They learn true teamwork and the idea that this is not going to get from point A to point B unless everybody pitches in. Everyone’s on ground zero. No one is the cool kid, no one’s the nerd, no one’s the jock. It is everyone’s out of their element and they are given a challenge that they have to rise to meet otherwise they don’t get to where they’re going.

Thankfully with the help of Falmouth assistant principal John Radkey, he also accredited their summer one week program. So now kids who go out sailing with them also get a semester’s worth of high school credit which is a really great validation of that education as well.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you think that that’s something that we’re lacking in today’s educational system and not to dis teachers ’cause my mom was a teacher, I think that they work very hard and do a great job but is there something about teamwork that maybe we could use a little bit of extra?

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, I agree with you there. Both my parents are teachers as well and it is an intensely difficult job to be a teacher especially nowadays in an age where kids can pull up an answer to a question on their phone usually faster than a teacher can even say it. But yeah, utilizing different classroom, especially a classroom where it forces people to put the phone down and turn their eyes up, that’s a huge benefit that I think people still are hesitant to latch onto. Again, they do learn how to sail but the actual lesson is so much more. It’s just a great classroom. You can teach anything on it. You can teach physics when you’re talking about friction coefficients and pulleys. You can talk about the Bernoulli Principle, what makes airplanes fly with the idea of a lift over a curved surface when you’re looking at sails. You can teach how to clean a toilet. Anything at all. You can teach trigonometry with astronavigation. Any subject you can possibly think of, it can be taught onboard these boats. It’s an intensely useful tool.

Lisa Belisle:                             What I was wondering about was the way that it seems that we have gone is a very competitive direction with our kids. And I have three so I’ve seen that this has evolved over time. That it seems often very individually focused especially in the suburbs we have a lot of, it’s very important for people to get into the right schools and in order to do that they’re sometime clawing over each other in order to be the best. Which is understandable but in the end when you get out of your great education, you still need to be able to work with people. I’m wondering if this is something that Tall Ships and other organizations like it can fill a void with.

Matty Oates:                          Absolutely. Tall Ships is just one of so many great organizations that offer that here in Maine. Ripple Effect is another. And you’re absolutely right, individual ambition is fantastic and it has driven so many wonderful things but you’re right, at the end of the day, not everyone can go it alone and do you need to know how to work with a team and when to give and when to push and when to compromise and when to support and that sort of thing is taught through all these great experiential modes. That was probably, I was a jerk when I was growing up. I was so up myself and not outwardly but I was right about everything and learning to just shut up and listen was a great lesson onboard these things. And realizing I don’t have all the answers all the time and it’s okay to be wrong and it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to do these things. And realizing how I fit into the larger puzzle of a team was instrumental growing up.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think it’s also something that I’ve seen with musicians who work for a long time with other musicians that especially when I’ve watched Spencer because he’s our producer for our radio show, seen how he interacts with his team and it really is, you really have to learn to read one another. You have to learn to give. You have to learn to take and it seems like that’s something that actually comes over time. So it’s not necessarily something that you can get out of even a semester working in a classroom together.

Matty Oates:                          It’s true. It would be piece of a much larger puzzle and experience is the best educator. I hate to quote it ’cause I just saw it yesterday but Star Wars when Yoda says, “Failure is the best teacher.” Yeah, it takes messing up, it takes a lot of different classrooms. To refer to a lot of different forms of education but it takes a long time to get there. The semester or even just a week onboard a boat it’s so intensive. It’s like immersion learning where you’re chucked into a completely foreign environment and your senses have to be firing all the time. It does help. I’ve seen some students make amazing transformations. Not everyone and there’s really no predicting who it’s really going to resonate with but there’s some students who have come back as completely different people. In a very short amount of time.

Lisa Belisle:                             Does it also help you to listen, to learn to listen to yourself versus, you talked about turning the phone off ’cause sometimes when you’re out on the ocean you don’t have access to the internet. And paying to the world around you but also to pay attention to yourself and your intuitive response to things or even your learned response to things like the weather or other people?

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, trusting one’s gut is something I’ve learned and talking about messing up. I’ve learned the hard way. Times where I’ve had the gut feeling and ignored it and then stuff’s gone wrong. That education’s been wonderful in the idea that now when I have that gut feeling I react to it. Even now it may be wrong but nine times out of ten it’s been the right thing. Like you say, with weather, you’d rather have prepared for it and be wrong than throw caution to the wind and then be wrong. Things can go much, much worse.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you mind me asking about one of these times of failure and not trusting your intuition ’cause I think sometimes these are things that are good for us to hear about other people. Because we all assume we’re the only ones.

Matty Oates:                          True. A lot of it was just dealing with feeling like I should check, if we’re sailing and I look at something, I look at a line where we’ve been sailing out to Bermuda for four days and we’re always checking to make sure that no lines are chaffing and nothing’s wrong and to the times where you see something and the gut reaction says, “That’s going to chaff through.” Whether you’re tired and it’s ’cause you’ve been up for, you’re working on two hours sleep, three hours sleep and just out of it you go, it’ll be fine til morning and then next thing you know it’s two hours later and the line’s parted and everyone’s being called up to take in the sail that’s now flopping about ’cause I didn’t trust my gut on that.

Times where we’ve broken masts and broken spars and days we went out sailing we probably shouldn’t have been out in weather that was too strong and this was racing not voyaging. People getting hurt. People or gear breaking and just seeing where pride, seeing where for lack of a better term, machoism can just lead you down the wrong path in an attempt to prove someone wrong or better somebody. It gets you no where in the end, it really doesn’t.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is this part of that learning that you’re not always right? That you were talking about with regard to yourself when you were younger.

Matty Oates:                          Oh yeah, yeah, learning to be wrong is I think the best thing that we could possibly learn is just and a lot of times on a boat the hierarchy is very rigid and needs to be because the responsibility flows uphill that person at the top of the hill needs to then have the ability to control all the variables. A captain may need to be a bit of a tyrant but it’s because if anything goes wrong they bear all the responsibility. There’s no other way to it. There’s times learning to hold your tongue even if you don’t believe things right. The only time you really can speak up is if you believe people are in jeopardy, safety’s in jeopardy. But yeah, learning to swallow pride, learning to just accept the fact that you may not agree but you aren’t wearing the captain pants. You just got to suck it up and go with it because you may not have all the answers.

Lisa Belisle:                             Again, I wonder if there isn’t something cultural or societal or educational that hasn’t started us all down the path of believing that we all have to be right and we have to be right the first time.

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, it’s true. I completely agree with you. We’ve gone down that path but at the same time it feels like a lot of us don’t then if we are wrong, don’t have, we don’t want to accept the responsibility that we were wrong. That’s the other thing, just being able to raise your hand and say, “My name is Matty Oates and I was wrong.” That’s a lesson that should be taught more. Valuable life skills like you were saying before, in the strive to be more competitive and be more individualistic we miss some of the most crucial, my mom’s a preschool teacher and she has all these parents who are at age four and five they’re wondering if their kids are ready for kindergarten and are they going to do well on the test and she’s like, hold on, hold on. Can they share at playtime? Do they know how to take turns? Do they know, these are the real skills that will get them through life.

Colleges are not going to be looking at their preschool test scores. They don’t care those. But if you can share with somebody, that’s going to make you a good friend, a good partner, a good business partner. It’s so important.

Lisa Belisle:                             You decided that you were going to switch gears and go from the nonprofit world to work with Shipyard Brewing Company but you’ve actually been able to continue to bridge that gap and you found that there are important ways that working in for profit situation can help with nonprofit situation.

Matty Oates:                          Absolutely. I started working with Shipyard Brewing as program director of Tall Ships because Shipyard was a great supporter and sponsor of the nonprofit. I got to work closely with the staff there through our events. And then starting to work with Shipyard in June of this year. It really opened my eyes to how much Shipyard and really the entire brewing community here in Maine gives back to the nearly 13,000 nonprofits that are in Maine alone. There’s a lot of people with strong missions and great hearts but it’s tough to run a nonprofit on your own and to see the astronomical rise the brewing industry and then how they give back. I had no idea Shipyard gives back to the number of nonprofits that it does. It adds such a feeling of community, being able to be at these events and help support everything from Portland Trails and Spurwink and some of these organizations that do great and much needed work in Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting having worked in that in between where I’ve experience in the for profit and the nonprofit worlds, sometimes for profit gets a bad rap. Sometimes you’re seen as like the evil organization that’s money grubbing. But then when you realize that not only are they supporting nonprofits but they’re also supporting people’s families and paying their health insurance and making it possible for people to have roofs over their heads. It’s easier to be less judgemental I guess.

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, that’s so true. It comes back to the yin and the yang. We wouldn’t be able to have one with the other. We couldn’t have nonprofits if there were no for profits to support them and having been through not just through Tall Ships Portland but also before I went out to France, all the boats I worked on were 501C3 nonprofits doing environmental education or historical education. From the beginning realizing how tight these budgets have to be and how important fundraising is and how important donors are. And yeah, without those for profits we would have great intentions for the nonprofit world but no way to execute. You’re completely right. They’re so integral.

Lisa Belisle:                             And I think that’s again something that maybe when I was growing up and all the stuff I’m saying to you I’ve experienced myself so it’s not as if I’m accusing other people of feeling a certain way about for profit organizations. I think when you go through, when I went through my academic training to become a doctor, there’s this sense there’s these ivory towers that we all can live within and then all the people down below who actually have to work for a living, scrub the toilets and do the for profit stuff, somehow there’s something base about that because they’re doing, they’re working for money. I think that’s a transition that we all have to go through, this sense that there’s this idealistic view of the world, that you get to be part of when you’re in the academic field but then once you get out there’s this reality of life.

Matty Oates:                          Yeah. There was a great article written I think 2008, maybe 2009, published in the New York Times. It was in one of the Sunday inserts. I believe the title was, A Case to be Made for Working With Your Hands. It was a guy who had english degree from University of Chicago, he had done a lot of freelance writing. He’d done a lot of work at think tanks in DC and he’d left it all, he did a bit of freelance writing but he left it all to open a motorcycle repair shop ’cause he’d been tinkering and he realized bit by bit that the thought process, the actual analysis that went through breaking open a motorbike was at the time for him, far more real that the think tank stuff he was doing in DC. And that’s not to put down what that work and that, which is integral.

He brought up that same idea of we pass the lineman working in a storm to repair a transformer and we say, “Oh my, what a tough job.” But is there a little tinge of jealousy in there as well? Do we actually want to be the one performing this crucial task? That’s another thing that we did focus on a little bit with Tall Ships with the idea of the maritime trades and how we have, we’ve turned away from promoting the trades. It’s been this constant stream that everyone needs to go to a four year university and that’s it and that’s why we’ve got electricians making six figures because there’s nobody out there. The thinking is not only incredibly difficult with a very, if you get it wrong, it’s a pretty abrupt end working with AC power. You gotta make sure you’re thinking clear and thinking ahead and thinking through everything that you do and same thing with plumbing and engineering and there’s Maine has so many opportunities.

There’s a boatyard Washburn and Dowdy up the way that make these state of the art tractor tugs that we see plowing up the waterways here. They are having a tough time finding kids at 18 years old to sweeps the floors of the workshop for 18 bucks an hour. Which, if you’re 18 years old is a great wage around here. And they will take you and they’ll see what you’re interested in whether it’s welding or whatever and they’ll put you in an apprenticeship and provide you with a great career in the state of Maine. And I feel like a lot of people don’t even know these exist. That was a bit of a tangent there.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s an important thing for us to keep considering that we live within a community and different types of intelligence are valuable. You can have the type of intelligence that enables you to get a PhD and study something at the university. You can have the type of intelligence that enables you to keep the power on. You can have the type of intelligence that enables to build a boat. It’s not that any of these are better or worse or more valuable or less valuable. They’re all very valuable and they keep us all moving forward together. I’m okay with that tangent because I believe in it. That’s the bottom line we’re talking. I’ll let you go on that one.

I’ve been speaking with Matty Oates who is the former program director for Tall Ships Portland who currently works a media manager at Shipyard Brewing Company. He and his brother Kevin also host a podcast called Bach to Bock in which they discuss both classical music and beer. It’s been a fun conversation, thanks for coming in.

Matty Oates:                          Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by  Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s old port where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessica Jordan was 34 when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. Her mother passed away soon after she finished radiation. To honor her mother’s memory, Jessica completed the Tri for a Cure in July of 2017 and she was this year’s top fundraiser breaking her goal by $44,000. That’s pretty impressive.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah, it was a pretty amazing experience.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting that you were able to turn something that really was for most people and I’m sure for you also a very difficult experience. Two things that were very difficult, breast cancer and your mother passing away, into something important and meaningful in a fairly short period of time.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah, it was a short period of time. It was only a couple months after my mom passed that I was going through actually some emails of hers and somehow I thought of the Tri for a Cure and I remembered that I had signed up for it. And one of the last things my mom and I had talked about was trying to raise money for cancer research. And I was in such, getting through cancer and then being hit by losing somebody so important to me, I had thought cancer was one of the toughest things I’d ever gone through. And my mom used to always say, “Things can always be worse.” I felt like I was faced all of a sudden with something that was, felt so much worse. I actually missed the days of just dealing with chemo because that seemed easier than what I was faced with with losing my mom so suddenly.

I really needed some kind of outlet. I knew my family needed some kind of outlet and we were in a really bad place. I said to my sister, “I don’t have anything left to deal with this kind of enormous loss. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted,” and I felt like I just wanted to give up because I’d been so positive through treatment and through my whole journey with cancer and now my mom’s not here.

I went through a couple of months of being really, really in a dark place and really having a hard time and I looked through some of my mom’s emails and found that I had gotten into the Tri for a Cure. All of a sudden I just, I didn’t even really plan it, I just thought, you know what? I’ll sign up and I’ll worry about the training and everything later I don’t know how I’m going to do that because the last time I had run I had gone to hospital. I had run three miles and I had gone too hard and I was nervous about just the training aspect of it but I figured I’d start training. It would get me out and I’d worry about that later. We were able to write a page about what our inspiration was for doing the race. I just started writing about my mom and about how wonderful our relationship was and why I wanted to raise money for this cause and I wanted to do it in honor of her and feel like I was doing it with her.

I came home and I said to my husband, I said, “I’m going to do the Tri for a Cure this year. I just signed up.” And he said, “Okay, good for you. That’s great.” And I said, “And I looked into who, the person that raised the most donations last year,” and I said, “it was $20,000 so I want to raise $20,001.” And he looked at me and I don’t know if I gave him a look of like, that’s it I’m doing it because he looked at me like, okay, I don’t know about this. And he’s been so supportive and he just said, I said, “No, I want to do it and I want to do it this year.” And he said, “Okay.” And that was it. I started, I told my story and I immediately started seeing money being raised. And started to feel something again. Started to feel that positivity again that I had really lost after my mom passed.

Lisa Belisle:                             Did it feel as if somebody had moved the finish line on you?

Jessica Jordan:                     That’s a really good way of putting it. Yeah, yeah. It was two months after I had finished radiation that my mom passed away and I literally remember, I remember the day that she passed. I remember walking out to see Connor and we were watching one of the playoff football games. It was the new year. It was two weeks into the new year. It was January 14th and I was finally ready to say, “That’s it with the past.” My mom always said, “Let’s move forward.” We put enough towards cancer, let’s move forward and I was ready to be done with that. Like you said, I was ready, I crossed that finish line, I was ready to be done. I was ready to move forward. The day she passed, I remember looking at my husband and we gave each other this smile. I’ll never forget it because it was almost like a moment that we had where everything’s okay now. We got through all of that.

And literally that same moment my cousin walked in to tell me that something had happened to my mother. It all started all over again. It’s been brutal. Brutally hard. Really, really two of the toughest things I think you could ever deal with literally simultaneously. And they were both so unexpected. That’s the crazy part. I was 34 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Very healthy, young, wasn’t genetic. I have no idea where it came from. My mom passed of a pulmonary embolism. Neither of these made sense. I think it’s human nature to want to feel like if I hadn’t done this, then this wouldn’t have happened. If only I had done this differently then I maybe I wouldn’t have gotten cancer. Or there’s some way to rationalize somebody passing like that.

What this has proven is that we just have no control of our lives. My mom always used to say, “You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring.” And she taught me so many lessons. But I think one of the biggest lessons she taught me was that how true that really is. I was worried about myself for a year. She was worried about me for a year. And now she’s not here. Cancer or no cancer, none of us have any certainty of what tomorrow brings. That’s how I choose to live my life now. It’s not in fear but knowing today that I’m lucky.

Lisa Belisle:                             This is all still very fresh. Your mother passed away in January of 2017.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             Within the last year.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             It hasn’t even been a year as you and I are talking and then you yourself, you were diagnosed just a little, about two years ago.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah, almost exactly two years ago. February 24th.

Lisa Belisle:                             And that doesn’t even really feel, I know when I was diagnosed with cancer that the time immediately afterwards, it all sped up ’cause you’re just doing all the stuff you need to do and then you put your head up and all of a sudden you look around and six months has passed or a year has passed.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             This for you is all so, still so present.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah, it honestly time is a weird thing. It really is. It sometimes being diagnosed with cancer seems like it was a 100 years ago. That was a different life. That was a different period. You start to forget. You probably experienced this too. You start to forget some of those things that you went through. In other ways it seems like it was just three seconds ago. It’s the same thing with my mom. I think that these things too are both such shocking things that it takes you so long just to even realize that they happened. I don’t know if I’ve even fully realized that these two things have really happened. I wake up every morning, I have to say, “Yep, you had cancer, that happened.” And, “Yep, Mom’s not here, that’s true.” And I have to remind myself that these things actually happened. I don’t even feel like I know. I’ve said this a few times, I don’t feel like I really remember who I was before all of this. It changes you so profoundly.

I just, I feel like I look at that person with the long hair and just completely no idea what cancer’s like or what real loss is like and I almost just want to pat her on the back and say, “It’s okay.” It changes you so profoundly that I just look at everything differently now but at the same time I really don’t know if a lot of this has really even hit me. I’m just now starting to feel like in the last couple of weeks, more emotion. I was in such shock that now I’m starting to feel more emotion when I think about my mother because I’m really starting to realize that she’s not with us. And I’ve never experienced anything like that before where time just, it’s just a crazy thing.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting because I know going through my own breast cancer, part of what I needed to do was to be positive and to be strong and to move forward in a direction of healing. I think when you’re doing that, it almost shuts down some of the necessary processes of grieving the person you once were.

Jessica Jordan:                     Absolutely.

Lisa Belisle:                             I was just, this was for me, I can’t remember how many years now, not that long ago, maybe three, four. The other day I actually started to tear up thinking about my breast cancer. I’m like wow, where did that come from.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             So it’s interesting that you can think that you have dealt with stuff and then it’s there.

Jessica Jordan:                     It is.

Lisa Belisle:                             Just below the surface.

Jessica Jordan:                     It is. Right after I was diagnosed I started seeing a therapist and thank gosh because everything got so much crazier. I’m so glad I’ve had her. I said to her at one point, I said, “You know, I’m worried about myself because I’m not crying. I’m not emotional. What is that? Why am not crying every single day? Why am I not curled up in a ball? ‘Cause that’s what I would’ve thought if something like this happened to me let alone both things.” And what I realized is that you can feel so many different emotions and be grieving so, so much. But it doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily crying all the time. You can grieve in so many different ways, that’s just one emotion. But I do find there is still, there are times where something will happen, something with spark an emotion I didn’t even, it’ll be the strangest thing that I wouldn’t have expected and suddenly I’m so emotional and something you would think would make you really emotional I’m fine.

I don’t know if it’s a coping mechanism but it’s there. It just comes out in these odd, odd times. But I do think that it’s a great point that you had. I think that we don’t know, everything happens so fast when you’re diagnosed. You don’t have the time to even think about mourning who you were because you’re trying to figure out what to do for the next thing and how to get through this next period and you’re in such a state of just trying to fix the situation that you never think about the fact that I just ended a chapter of my life. I just goodbye to the person that I was all of those years of not having to deal with this. Because I think that what a lot of people don’t realize when you are diagnosed with cancer and you start to look like yourself again after treatment and you start to feel like yourself again, everybody says, there’s this mentality of, “Oh you got through it. You’re done with it.”

I think because I’ve been very positive through my own diagnosis as well I think maybe it’s been forgotten. Or I didn’t realize this either, to be fair, I didn’t realize this before cancer how much was involved with trying to just make sure that this doesn’t happen again. But everyday is I’m still taking medication. I’m still going to get blood work every three weeks. I will be on this medication for 10 years. I’m getting mammograms and MRIs and dealing with the emotional. It’s the emotional piece that lasts longer than the treatment itself. And I think that once you start to look and feel like yourself there’s this sense of oh, everything’s okay again. It’s a lifelong change. This is for the rest of my life. I will always have this on the back burner of something that I’m thinking about. What if that ache or pain isn’t just an ache or pain? I think it’s the getting through it mentally that ends up being the longest journey of all of it.

Lisa Belisle:                             This all happened too coincidentally with around the time that you were preparing for your wedding.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes. That’s how I found it. Yeah. Yeah, I always say my wedding saved my life. It’s really crazy. I was really stressed out. Connor and I got married the day after Christmas in 2015 and I wanted to start a family very soon and I laugh at that now ’cause I thought I had this whole plan figured out. Right? We’re going to get married, I’m going to have kids, we’re going to get a house. It’s going to be one thing after another, all my ducks in a row. It all changed so quickly. Two months after we were engaged, I was planning a wedding and we were trying to do a real quick turnaround, eight months of planning and I was really busy with work so I was stressed out and I woke up in the middle of the night feeling anxious so I was rubbing the stress out of my chest and I felt something.

It was something I never felt before and thought it was almost a piece of my bone because it was really, it didn’t really move when I touched it but I was also stressed so I thought, “Jess, you’re anxious. This is why you’re doing this anyway. Just wake up in the morning, if you still feel it then call your doctor.” Well I woke up in the morning, I still felt it. So I called my doctor and I remember sitting in her office and I was trying to find it again and I couldn’t find it and I had this moment of thinking, “Oh my gosh you’re wasting everyone’s time. You don’t have the time to be out here. She’s going to think you’re crazy because you can’t even find it and you’re just anxious because you’ve got a lot going on.”

She came in and I apologized I said, “I’m sorry. I feel like I’m overreacting.” When she felt it, that’s when I started to think maybe something was not right. I looked into, I did some research on my own and I know that there’s benign cysts that you can have. So I thought well maybe that’s all it is. So I went in there, I got a mammogram and I thought that’s probably all it is and when they ruled that out and said they want to do a biopsy that day I remember that was the moment that I went in the bathroom and I started to really get emotional and lose it. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, “What if this is, what if you have cancer? What if this really is cancer?” And then, as I’m sure you know, you have to wait five to seven to hear the results which is the longest five to seven days of your entire life.

When they called and said that it was something I needed to come in for, Connor and I still were under the impression that it wasn’t, the way that they had said it, they didn’t think it was invasive so I didn’t think it was going to be anything too bad. I thought I could just get it removed. We had planned to go out to breakfast the next day after this appointment. And we were thinking about where we were going to go to breakfast. And we went in there and sat down and she said, “It’s serious.” And I said, and I’m sure you probably felt the same thing, it’s like this beautiful music that’s playing and then all of a sudden it just stops. And you hear that and it’s like your whole life just goes on pause. I said, “Is it breast cancer?” And she said, “Yes.” That ended up being a seven hour day of MRIs and blood work and needing a team that’s talking to me about things that I’d never thought I’d be talking about and trying to figure out how to tell my family.

That was the biggest thing. That came to my mind. Is how do I tell my mother? How do I say cancer? And not make it sound like a big deal. How do I say that and say oh don’t worry about it? I’m like, is there another word for cancer that I can use? Because she worried about everything. I really didn’t know how. That was my biggest focus was how do I pull myself together and call our families and tell them not to worry when I don’t have the answers for them that they’re going to want right now because we still didn’t know a lot.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s funny that that’s the thing that we worry about.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             That we worry more about how it’s going to impact other people. Which I think is probably fairly common actually. Especially among women.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             They’re so much more worried about how this is going to impact everyone around them.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             Than they are able to worry about themselves.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yep.

Lisa Belisle:                             And maybe that’s a good thing.

Jessica Jordan:                     I think it’s a good distraction.

Lisa Belisle:                             Exactly.

Jessica Jordan:                     To be honest.

Lisa Belisle:                             Exactly.

Jessica Jordan:                     I didn’t have time to really think about what if this is really, how bad could this possibly be because I was so concerned with how to relay the information to my family and my friends who I’d, God love them, I’d sent a text message to them because I couldn’t call everyone and talk to them all and give them time that I knew that they deserved so I had to send a text message. I can’t imagine being the other end of a text message from my friends saying that they have breast cancer but as you know, it’s so overwhelming that you can really only put so much energy into every single individual thing. And at that point it just you need to figure out the game plan. Do I need chemo? Do I need radiation? Do I need a lumpectomy, a double mastectomy? What are we talking here? Those are all things that at that point I still didn’t know.

Lisa Belisle:                             There’s a lot of processing that when you tell somebody some sort of news, they will need to do for themselves. If you call every person, you’re going to get everybody else’s process which is completely legitimate but also you need to retain a little bit of your own self to care for yourself.

Jessica Jordan:                     That’s a very good point.

Lisa Belisle:                             You need to be able to triage almost. Like okay, I’m going to talk to these people in person, these people get a phone call, these people get a text message, maybe these people get an email.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             And it’s not that you don’t care about all these various friends and family just everybody wants to tell you how they feel about it.

Jessica Jordan:                     Right.

Lisa Belisle:                             Which is great and hard.

Jessica Jordan:                     It is hard. And I feel like sometimes it can also add to your anxiety because certain people you tell and God love them, they get so nervous, they ask all these questions that you didn’t think about. And then the next thing you know you’re going, oh my gosh, should I have thought about that? What if that is the case? I don’t know. It adds to sometimes an already anxiety, obviously an anxiety producing situation. I think that’s one of the hardest things too is not letting other people’s fears and thoughts or ideas become something that you’re taking on as your own because you already have so many of your own to try and to figure out. Trying time like that.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think that that’s a really important point. It might actually in some ways the fact that we have access to so much information now, may not be the best thing because it does actually cause you to second guess yourself and the worst thing you can do when you’re trying to set up a treatment plan is second guess because there is no perfect option.

Jessica Jordan:                     No. And they don’t tell you that. Not that anybody would ever tell you this but I always thought that, I always had this idea that if you were diagnosed with something serious, the doctors would just say, “Okay here’s exactly what you need to do.” I went in there and they said that. I’m like, “All right so what exactly do I need to do? Just fix it.” And there’s no perfect recipe it’s more like, here are your options. Let me know which one you would like to move forward with. And I wasn’t prepared for that. I don’t think a lot of people are. We’re not the experts but you have to almost become an expert and you do have do your own research which can be a long rabbit hole to fall into because that starts to address other issues that you didn’t think about. Or other problems that might be yours or might not be.

Or other people’s, one thing that I stopped getting involved in is other people writing their own stories or their own experiences because I started to be convinced that all of those were going to be my story and my experience and I couldn’t really separate reality from what I thought might happen or what happened to somebody else. I had to constantly say, “Is this my diagnosis? Is this my situation?” And lots of times it wasn’t but if you really do, I stopped reading anything really at this point. I’m lucky enough I have a friend who’s an oncologist so I just call her. Or I know the trusted sites to go to. But no longer do I just randomly Google something because you almost always find the answer that you don’t want if you’re looking for something and you’re worried about it. You’re going to surely find that that inevitably what’s going to happen. I think that’s a huge point is to just refrain from, there’s almost too much information out there now. There really is. And that really can be really hard when you’re going through such a serious diagnosis.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s all of these things that we’re talking about I think also that makes Tri for a Cure so powerful because so many people are in that survivor wave of participants that you look around and you think, that person went through this, that person went through this, this person went through this. Or you look at the people who are impacted by cancer in other ways and you think, she has a sister. She has a mother. And even though you may not have exactly the same experience, it’s interesting to be part of that bigger group now.

Jessica Jordan:                     Absolutely. It was actually a really emotional moment to, I did the 5K for the Tri for a Cure too. I stood on the line and they had a thing for the survivors and they start first. And there weren’t that many of us. And everybody else is supporting us but they’d all had some kind of cancer related story. My friend caught up to me ’cause she ran it with me and I looked at her and I said, “I can’t believe that I’m running in this wave.” And she said, “I still can’t either.” And there was just this moment of I’ve been a competitive runner since I was 11 years old. To be running along with other women who didn’t have their hair and my hair was just growing back and now to be running, it was just a totally different experience. I used to always love to support causes like this but I’d become the cause. That was one of, a really pivotal moment for me to say, “Oh my gosh, I’m on the other side of this now. I’m not just cheering these women on. I am one of these women.”

The Tri for a Cure is just, it’s incredible for so many ways. Not only what it raises money for but yeah, you start to look around and you see all of these people that have been affected in some way, shape or form. A lot of them are young. And when I came to Maine and I started my treatment here, I felt like I was the only 34 year old woman with breast cancer in Maine and I remember saying that to a nurse. I said, “Am I the youngest woman in Maine to ever have breast cancer?” And she said, “Oh no. That’s not good that you think that.” She said, “You guys just don’t come in at the same time.” She said, “There’s actually quite a few of them.” We started a group where we would meet every week and we would just talk about all the things that none of our other 34 year old friends could talk about or could relate to.

And God love them they tried. It wasn’t that they didn’t care but there’s just things that happen with a diagnosis like this. Different side effects, different ailments, different emotional stressors that is not common for a young 30 year old woman to be going through. And that’s hard as well when you start to think, why me? What did I do wrong? That was one thing that I really struggled with was that I really felt almost like, I almost felt like I was ashamed when I was first diagnosed because all these other women were having babies and getting married, getting engaged, buying houses, doing all the things that they should be doing and I was at home bald and going through treatment and really not recognizing myself emotionally or physically. And to do that as a 34 year old woman before you’ve really even started your life with someone, presents so many different challenges that a lot women my age couldn’t relate to.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think it’s really important that you have raised this money for cancer research and here’s why. Because cancer is impacting people at a younger age. It’s impacting young, healthy people and we don’t have reasons for it and we don’t have great screening tests for it and people need to stop feeling guilty about getting something that possibly has underlying reasons that we don’t know enough about yet and the only way we’re going to figure this out is by putting money into research and the only way we’re going to be able to do that is to have people like you raising the money. It’s a very important thing you’ve done.

Jessica Jordan:                     Thank you very much. It’s been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever been part of.

Lisa Belisle:                             I appreciate your coming in and sharing your story with us. I’ve been speaking with Jessica Jordan who was 34 when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and her mother passed soon after she finished radiation. To honor her mother’s memory, she completed Tri for a Cure last July and was that year’s top fundraiser, breaking her goal by $44,000. Thank you for coming in and for all the good work you’re doing.

Jessica Jordan:                     Thank you very much. It was an honor.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s old port where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 332. Our guests have included Matty Oates and Jessica Jordan. For more information on our guests in extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radios is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also let our sponsors know that you have head about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our Editorial Producer is Brittany Cost. Our Assistant Producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our Community Development Manager is Casey Lovejoy and our Executive Producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #331: Birch Shambaugh and John Weston

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine, and acupuncture, and tops. Show summaries are available at

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio show number 331, airing for the first time on Sunday, January 21st, 2018. Today’s guests are Birch Shambaugh, owner of Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland, and seventh generation farmer John Weston of Weston Farm in Fryeburg. Thank you for joining us.

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Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Birch Shambaugh, who along with his wife Faith are the husband and wife team behind Woodford Food & Beverage, a neighborhood bar and restaurant in Portland. We attempted to have both here with us today, but we to have Birch by himself representing Fayth, so thank you for being here.

Birch S:                                     Thank you very much for having me.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I am fascinated by the fact that you brought an eatery to the former Valle’s Steakhouse in the middle of Woodford’s Corner. It’s not something that in this day and age often we think of. Retrofitting a chain restaurant to be a more intimate bistro type setting.

Birch S:                                     Yeah. It’s been, well it’s been a long and pretty fascinating undertaking for us to date. One that significantly pre-dates our actually opening of this restaurant. My wife and I moved to the neighborhood almost a decade ago, and both had worked in hospitality for a goodly portion of our lives. About the first week that we bought our house in the Oakdale neighborhood, we were heading out Forest Avenue to the big box stores to start fixing it up, and we saw for the first time, this amazing or amazing to us building sitting in the middle of Woodford’s Corner. It had the peaked roofs and the mid century architecture that strongly suggested roadside dining.

At the time, it was kitted as a mortgage company, which it had been for many years. It lept out to us, as places often do for people who’ve worked in hospitality a lot, we turned to one another and said, “That should be a restaurant.” Of course with a little bit of digging, we realized it had been and that’s precisely what it was purpose built to be. It was one of those moments where this space really thunderstruck us and we couldn’t get it out of our head. Life continued apace in all of our other pursuits, and our fixing the house, and we got ourselves excitedly into a family and all manner of stuff, but once the idea lodged in our heads, we couldn’t shake it. We started thinking about it more and more, and the idea became something a little more full fledged.

We realized that not only had it been a restaurant at one time, Valle’s Steakhouse. In fact, the first Valle’s Steakhouse. While Valle’s grew into a chain, this was where it started and when Valle’s started, it really was a foundation point in the neighborhood. That neighborhood at the time, in the 50’s, Woodford’s Corner, was a neighborhood epicenter. It had its own specific gravity. It served all the surrounding neighborhoods in a different way, perhaps, than it has since then. It was dense with the neighborhood businesses, there was a move theater there, there were one, possibly two neighborhood drug stores. It was really a thriving little community epicenter.

Obviously a lot of things have changed in the intermediate decades, but this idea of vitality in that amazing old space, and the idea of trying to bring a restaurant back there that could be a central part of the community and help drive that narrative, hopefully, a little bit of change back in the direction of there being a great neighborhood feel there, was something that was really interesting to us in our own neighborhood. None of that is to suggest that there aren’t a lot of great neighborhood businesses there now. There have been businesses, hospitality and otherwise that have been holding it down there for really long time. Artisan Craftsman, and the Bear a further out on Forest, and Bayou Kitchen. There’s the seafood shop, Merle’s across the street. A lot of fantastic neighborhood businesses, but there’s also been a seat change in terms of Forest Avenue as a transit corridor and I think it’s fair to say that it suffered a couple of generations of commuter based policy blight along that section.

We got this idea in our head that there was not only that that building really should, in its highest and best use because a restaurant again, but that there was an opportunity to try and bring a great neighborhood place back into that space, and at the same time, drive a meaningful plot in terms of helping increase momentum towards Woodford’s Corner being a little bit more of a neighborhood epicenter again. That’s what lodged in our craw, if you will. That was … Geez, we’re coming up on our two year anniversary now. That was probably six, seven years ago. We reached out to the owner of the building and tried to see if he had any interest, and never heard back from him. We continued in the rest of our life and moving along through various work and what have you, but we kept digging at the idea.

Then flash forward, I guess three years ago now, we had just welcomed our second child into the world, and I got a phone call out of the blue on my cell phone. The voice on the other end said, “Well, you are persistent. Are you still interested in the building at 660 Forest Avenue?” It was a pretty remarkable question to get out of the blue after maybe five, six letters sent without response over the years. I had my son Wayland in one arm, and he was colicky and howling, and this phone with a voice reaching out to respond to a question that we’ve been asking ourselves for years now. Ultimately while life was a pretty complex as it stood, it was probably not more than a 10 or 15 minute conversation between Faith and I before we realized that there really was only one answer to us, that you don’t get the shot, the window to try and take a crack at a dream of yours all that often.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      It has been interesting to watch, I guess, the rise in the food culture in the Portland area. There aren’t as many people who are working on food culture off peninsula in Portland as there are on peninsula in Portland. You and Faith are among those people. Have there been specific challenges associated with not being right in the middle of the Old Port, let’s say?

Birch S:                                     Yeah. I think there … Well, every challenge is also an opportunity, right? If you frame it correctly. I will say that there are a lot of things that are different about doing what we do where we do it. Obviously there’s an incredible density of amazing offerings in the downtown on peninsula area in Portland. That said, we never had any interest in opening a restaurant downtown. The only thing that was interesting to us was doing something out there in the community that we lived in and trying to make a neighborhood place. That’s a long way around answer a part of your question, which is that a neighborhood restaurant, a good neighborhood joint is substantively different than a restaurant that is dependent on tourist traffic.

A lot of the strength of the hospitality industry downtown is supported, and that amazing density of options is supported by the incredible tourism we enjoy here. That is not something that you can reasonable hope for, at least in the near term, in an off peninsula location. In some ways, it’s an entirely different business approach. When we opened a couple of years ago, there were less options than there are now. There are increasingly month in and year out more and more options out our way, off peninsula, and that’s a great thing. We live in these neighborhoods and more options is better for everybody who lives out there.

Ultimately, if you do your job well and you’re lucky, you start to create something that’s interesting enough that it becomes a compelling jaunt for people who are in town visiting from away as well. A couple of years in we’re starting to see more and more of that, but certainly you have to have a different goal to open a restaurant or a bar, what have you, out there, than you have down here. Our goal has always been to forge long term relationships with our customers, the people who live and work around there in surrounding towns and environments that are interested in trying something a little bit different and coming our way rather than going downtown.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      My family and I live in Yarmouth, and the first few times we talked about going into Woodford Food & Beverage, it was like, “Well, that seems like that’s really far out of the way,” but then we went there, and we’re like, “Well, it’s actually not that far out of the way.” The perception is very different than the reality. If you’re gonna drive in from the suburbs, it’s almost equidistant really.

Birch S:                                     You can loop around the back cove and be at us just as easily when you’re coming from the north as you can be downtown. Certainly perception is a huge thing in our business, in any business. We have kept our eyes squarely on just concentrating on trying to be the best version of ourselves that we can be in the belief that our appeal and our ultimately the strength of our business would reflect how effectively we were creating these lasting relationships with people. That starts in our own back yard.

What’s going on right now with the construction in Woodford’s Corner is a perfect example. It’s safe to say it is doing no favors to us or anybody else, but ultimately you’ve got to take the long view on this stuff. It’s part of the civic contract, and if it’s even incrementally successful, it would be a real difference maker for the livability and the walkability and the overall experience of both living in and passing through Woodford’s corner, which a notoriously lousy intersection. That said, in the midst of this maelstrom of construction, there is understandably a perception of wanting to avoid the hassle of choosing to drive into the corner. Of course, I totally understand that.

But the flip side is that all of our local customers, our guests who live in the neighborhoods around us have been incredible supportive and have been regularly coming in and supporting us through this and telling us that they really appreciate us being there and they want to see the continued health and viability of this momentum that’s afoot in Woodford’s Corner. As a result, they’re coming in and helping support us through the midst of that. That’s the type of relationship, I think, that I critical for a neighborhood business to be compelling enough and to be enough a part of people’s lives that they are interested in continuing to support you and to continue making sure that that is a meaningful interaction and an experience for them. If you could do a good job of that, I strongly believe that the rest will follow. People come to visit us from downtown regularly and people from neighborhoods like Valmouth and Yarmouth and what have you, find that it’s worth the trip.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well, the food is delicious.

Birch S:                                     Thank you.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I think it’s worth the trip just for that alone, but it’s also a very friendly atmosphere. We’ve been really impressed with the number of people that we’ve seen, especially older couples, that we’ll see walking from other parts of Woodford’s walking through the door. They’re clearly well known by people on your staff, and they find a place at the booth, they’ve been there more times than we have. It just feels very homey and-

Birch S:                                     Thank you very much. That’s actually incredibly meaningful to me, to us. Clearly you’re offering the food and drink in a place like ours is super important. It’s a huge part of the equation, but it’s by no means all of the equation. It’s a little bit of a cliché, I suppose to say, but for us in the hospitality business, you have to keep in mind that hospitality is your product, it’s not just food or drink or the caliber of your service. It’s this hopefully synergistic combination of all those things that delivers an experience and ultimately a feeling, how you feel about a place. That starts with the people who work there, and we are immense fortunate to have an incredible crew of people who we get to work with every day. People who also genuinely enjoy being there and genuinely care.

That’s the first foundational block of great service, of being able to consistently deliver a great product, and ultimately being able to make people feel good about being in there, whether they work there or they’re electing to come and spend their time and money there. That’s been incredibly important to us. Faith and I spend, and Courtney I should say … Courtney, who is our executive chef and long term friend. She’s amazing. It’s been a really profound creative experience between the three of us to try and figure out how to realize these hopes and visions that we had for this idea and this business. She’s one of the rare chefs that I’ve ever met who really believes also that a great restaurant is so much more than just great food, that it’s a great room and great service, and that softer science of a great vibe, but those are very difficult things to do put your finger on. You say you want to make a great neighborhood place, well, what’s that? It’s a super subjective thing.

We spent years even before we opened the doors, it was an ongoing conversation between the three of us on how to realize that. It’s not to suggest by any stretch of the imagination that we’ve got it all figure out, because far be it, but I’m reasonable pleased and super proud of how much progress we’ve made to date on it. I do think that that feeling that you talked about, that feeling of conviviality and a great vibe and friendliness within a place, that’s the hallmark of a great neighborhood place, and trying to figure out what the components are to be able to actually coax that into life has been our really fun project to date.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When I was in London and Dublin, I noticed the pub culture is so very different than what we have over here. It’s very much a third space atmosphere. It seems as though what you are trying to offer is that third space, where a lot of people now in this country are gravitating towards coffee shops. You’re offering, this is a restaurant, is a dining experience, a place where people … It’s not work, it’s not home, but they’re going to gather, and maybe they’ll get to know each other and maybe they’ll have a different element of their day that they might not otherwise have had if you’d just gone home.

Birch S:                                     I absolutely agree with that. We think about hospitality in some meaningful way, an extension of the familiarity or comfort of home and hearth, without the direct responsibility for that. That level of comfort and casualness that people have in space they’re familiar with is something that we’ve always felt is really important. Those are the kind of spaces and restaurants that we gravitate towards. We have definitely seen over the past couple of years, we’ve seen this amazing things that’s happened at our place where people have gotten to know each other under our roof who wouldn’t have otherwise, and we’ve gotten to know them.

Ultimately, as much as we are welcoming people into our restaurant, they’re welcoming us and one another into their lives when they’re there regularly. It becomes this, again, this synergistic thing that almost has a life and breath of its own. This feeling of familiarity and comfort and relationships born. It’s a profound and pretty humbling thing to be a part of, and to be able to do it in the community that we live in is incredible how often do you get to do something that you love in the community that you live in, and be able to forge these relationships with people that grow into something that it’s not two dimensional, it actually is deeper than that and meaningful. Like I said, that’s really a humbling thing.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When you and Faith were growing up, did you know that hospitality would be your ultimate separate goals, and now goal as a couple, I guess?

Birch S:                                     Well, Faith is probably the more died on the bowl hospitality veteran of the two of us. We both cumulatively probably spent 35 years in hospitality in one form or another. I don’t know if we knew it growing up, but certainly we’ve always known in our relationship and our dynamic that it was not so much a question of if we would ever open a place, but the where and the when. Certainly, the hospitality is something that is just inside people. It either is or it isn’t, and that’s fine. That extends from how interested you are in welcoming people to your home and having dinner parties and things like that, which is something that has been a part of our life together since the beginning.

We had a cooking club in New York when we lived there that we were in for a decade and change, every Tuesday night with a couple other friends. We would routinely have round robin dinner parties and the like. That’s not that interesting to some people, but for those that it is, it’s certainly one of those fundamental groundwork elements that can contribute to making a decision so harebrained as to wanting to open a restaurant. Yeah, we always knew that we wanted to, and the question of where and when obviously answer itself when we found ourselves here. Faith has worked in hospitality since the very beginning, I took a 10 year break in technology, but ultimately realized that I was much more of a people person and got sick of sitting in front of a computer screen all day.

I think it’s something that there are also some people who decide that they want to open a restaurant and then find a couple years in, that it turns out maybe they’re not so much of a people person, and that can be a profound shock, I think. For us, it’s been something that’s just a part of our lives and our DNA, and has been a very natural extension of that to open a place of our own, and now to have a young family in it as well. It’s incredible to be running essentially a family business, and have two young children who are growing up in a restaurant. I’m acutely aware that we are also sowing the seeds for this life potentially in both of them.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I think each of the times that we have eaten at your restaurant, because we always tend to eat early, your family has been there as well. You’ve been there with your young children. It’s interesting to see their comfort level that they obviously enjoy the food, but they also enjoy the interactions with other people, and the staff, other patrons of the restaurant. I think that’s important because it seems more and more that we go off to work, our children go off to daycare or school, or separate lives. Come back at the end of the day, you have a few hours together, everybody goes to sleep. You wake up, you do the same thing the next day. I think we miss out when there’s not enough intersections between what we do as adults and what children do as children.

Birch S:                                     Yeah, I think so. We don’t have those hard delineations in our life, both by design and necessity these days. Of course opening a restaurant is a notoriously challenging and stressful undertaking, and doing it with a young family is even more complicated, but we always also by design, wanted this to be a very porous memory in our lives between work and our life because ultimately that’s the way that it feels to us. That also has permeated into the type of restaurant that we made. Hopefully you make the kind of restaurant that you yourself want, and the type of restaurant that we want is the type of place that is very comfortable to be in as a family. The type of place that can be a bunch of different things to the same person.

It’s the place you’re thrilled to go with your kids and have a meal, that they can find something to enjoy, and perhaps you can have a semblance of an adult meal and proper cocktail at the same time. Also the type of place you would go alone and sit at the bar and read and be unbothered by anybody or that you might step out and want to celebrate something. To try and be all those things, means that we’ve had to live all of those things ourselves as well, and both verify that the place could be that for us, as well as validate our assumptions on that level. Consequently, we have created a restaurant that I think is very comfortable to dine in with kids. We do it regularly and there are certainly times when the place is lousy with little kids, but we love that ’cause ultimately that’s life. It’s an honest look at what life I like, and there’s vitality in being able to look around a room, whether it’s our restaurant or any other and see an older couple having a meal alone and enjoying a moment on one end of the room, and a young family with two or three squawking kids at another end of the room, and everything in between. For us, that’s vitality and that’s an honest look at life, and that’s the type of place that we want to have.

Yes, we dine in it regularly and occasionally, I am reminded that there are many children who are more refined and better dinners than ours are. I’m constantly amazed at what incredible young diners regularly are in our doors, and I don’t count ours those, as ours can be unrepentant heathens at times. All parents, of course, do their best to control that situation impact on their diners as much as possible, but I’ll apologize right now for the fact that I’m only marginally successful sometimes in our own restaurant.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I’ve never noticed that your children were heathens. From my standpoint, they’re doing just fine.

Birch S:                                     Thank you.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I think that’s also, I don’t know if you on purpose, or inadvertently raised the idea that one of the ways that we learn how to be with others in a group setting is by being in a group setting. There’s not really a way to become a refined diner or a diner of any sort unless you actually are in a restaurant with other people. If you’re a small child and you get to be there enough, you maybe will development behaviors that will …

Birch S:                                     Yeah, agreed.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Yes.

Birch S:                                     It is fair to say that anybody raising children in this particular environment in life also exposes them to things that other kids may be less exposed to. Faith and I were at a restaurant not long ago with the kids. Somebody was making a cocktail behind the bar in the far off distance behind the restaurant. My elder child, Cordelia, heard the sound of the cocktail shaker and said, “Papa, is Todd here?” He’s one of our bartenders. Which I thought was pretty cute.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      So not every child has that kind of experience. You’ve not just showed your children very specific sound effects that they will be able to relate to for the rest of their lives.

Birch S:                                     Perhaps some of it will effectively firewall for a period of time, but it was one of those light bulb moments where it really made me sit back and consider just what an interesting thing it is to be growing up in this environment.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I’ve been speaking with Birch Shambaugh, who along with his wife, Faith, is part of the husband and wife team behind Woodford Food & Beverage, a neighborhood bar and restaurant in Portland. Thank you for coming in today, and my best to Faith. We will be back in your restaurant again soon.

Birch S:                                     Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

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Dr Lisa Belisle:                      John Weston is a seventh generation farmer who grows 60 acres of fresh vegetables, and two acres of them are certified organic. He also coaches Nordic skiing at Fryeburg Academy. Thanks for coming in.

John Weston:                       Good morning.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I’m interested in the fact that you’ve been doing the work on your farm for seven generations. Well, not you personally, but people have been on your farm for seven generations. Is that a normal thing a far as you can tell?

John Weston:                       Well, no, I think that what? In 2000, we were recognized as a century farm by the USDA. At the time, I think that we were the third one in Maine. So no, it wouldn’t be, I think, something that happens every day. We’re proud of that.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Seven generations, and you still have three of them that are affiliated with the farm, is that right?

John Weston:                       Now we’re down to two. My grandmother, who was 104, who passed a couple years ago. No, now we’re down to two. My father and myself. Yeah, obviously we’re very proud of all that, bu the struggles of working with family and all the fun that goes along with that creates its own challenges above and beyond the fact that we’re in agriculture as well.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Tell me about your family. Tell me how they first came to be in Maine working on this far in western Maine.

John Weston:                       Well, like most people from Maine, the roots came from Massachusetts, when Maine was still part of Massachusetts. That was in the winter of 1799. We took ownership of the property in March of 1800, but we always say we were established in 1799 ’cause it sounds better. Yeah, it was the typical family gentleman’s farm, doing the things to sustain a family and sustain the farm. Throughout the generations, there were livestock dealers, cattle dealings, hemlock bark was a big industry for a while. More the current generations, my grandfather was a livestock dealer, so when all the number of farms that were in the area, you could think of it almost as a grocery store for animals. If you were going to start your spring and needed some piglets, or if you had a beef animal to sell, or you needed a replacement heifer for your dairy farm, you would see my grandfather.

He bought and shipped cattle throughout New England. There was a period where he shipped them from the Fryeburg train station to Boston on train cars. As that industry began to slow down, and the number of farms began to dwindle, that disappeared. My father’s generation transitioned from … He still did some of the livestock dealing. We always had cattle on the side. Excuse me, a dairy farm on the side. Then my father went more into a dairy farm, and my early years growing up through grade school, we still had the dairy, and then as that industry began to change and transition, we moved into crops. Most of my adult life has been dealing with crop farming.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When you say that most people in Maine came from Massachusetts, when your farm started out, Maine was Massachusetts. There was no Maine because that wasn’t until 1820. How was it that your family decided, “Oh, we’re gonna go up further in Massachusetts and connect with this plot of land.”

John Weston:                       Well, I can’t say what exactly brought us up here, but because everything was so mixed throughout. The survey lines were not set, grants of land were just being given to people. Obviously military generals and military personnel were being given chunks of land as compensation. I think it was Colonel Frye who started Fryeburg. Actually, so when my family came here, or part of the reason they came here was where our homestead is now, the man that was credited for the town of Brownfield, his name was Henry Brown, was living there and they re-ran the survey lines from Maine and New Hampshire and found out that he was actually living in Fryeburg, so he wasn’t about to stay in Fryeburg. He was gonna live in his own namesake town, so quickly left and my family capitalized on that by purchasing the property for, I think it was $743. A roundabout way, but that’s how they got started.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Your farm is right next to the river. The river that many people travel, in the summertime especially, on inner tubes and canoes and things like that.

John Weston:                       It’s a floating circus.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      It’s a floating circus, yeah exactly, exactly. This has been an interesting thing for you over the years because it also means that your farm is part of a flood plain.

John Weston:                       Yeah, which is obviously part of the reason why agriculture’s a big part of Fryeburg. It’s not just our farm, but a number of others. The Saco River divides our property, and 95% of it is low lying river bottom ground, which makes it excellent for agriculture, but very flood prone. Then, of course, as you say, there’s the newfound recreation parts of it with the canoe liveries, and the frat party that can happen on weekends on the Saco River. We’re not affected by that too, too much, luckily. We get to hear the noise from it on occasion, but otherwise we’re fortunate to have such great ground to grow crops on.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      This also means sometimes that when you’ve had weather extremes, that you’ve needed to adjust things a little bit. Most recently, we had the wind storm that affected us on this part of the state with tree down and power outages. You were mentioning to me that you got a lot … There was a lot of rain up in the mountains and came down and impacted your Christmas trees.

John Weston:                       Sure. Well, the Saco River starts in Crawford Notch in New Hampshire. All of that watershed winds up coming down through Fryeburg, and so a lot of times we have to watch the weather in New Hampshire, we’ll watch the New Hampshire forecast a lot to see what’s coming our way because locally, the wind storm that you talked about locally, Bartlett, New Hampshire, got between five and six inches of rain. All that’s going to be consolidated coming our way, and it did. We had some power outages, but the flood waters came up. Otherwise, it would be a good time of year for us ’cause we don’t have any crops. We don’t have any equipment or pumps in the river, or anything like that, other than Christmas trees.

We did have debris, and the biggest culprit is actually silt, the muddy water, as it recedes, just sticks to the needles. Now you have a dirty looking tree that we’ll have to wash off. The good part is it’ll still remain growing and still be a viable crop for another year. We haven’t lost the income from it.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Christmas is a big part of what you do with your farm story. When we visited there this summer, we could already see the pre-seeding, I guess, decorations, evidence that this was a big season.

John Weston:                       Yeah. It’s part of the business model. If you’re in agriculture, we have a very narrow window that we can operate for the crops on a yearly basis, so our yearly cycle is we start officially in March, we make maple syrup. That’s the early spring income, and we transition into some greenhouse crops. Then summer and fall aren’t a problem because there’s all the harvest of those seasons. Fresh vegetables and pumpkins and squash and all that. Christmas trees provide that winter income to bridge that gap a little bit. I never grew up knowing much about Christmas trees or thinking I’d be a Christmas tree farm in any stretch, but it’s part of the pie that you have to create to have your business model. It’s been a good one. We were fortunate to have some abutting tree farms that we could learn from as they transitioned out. We have people that come from across New England now to cut a tree and make it their family experience. No, it’s a nice time of year.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When you were growing up, did you know this is what you wanted to do? Did you know that you were gonna stay with the family business?

John Weston:                       It was always in the back of my mind. I went through high school always being interested in architecture and construction, so had that in the back of my mind, but was still always thinking about how do you carry on the farm. It’s there and it’s present, and I was never pressured to do it, I will certainly hand that to my parents. They always let me choose my own way. Certainly, you can’t not feel that pressure a little bit. I wound up going to University of Maine Orono, and studying sustainable agriculture and quickly began to realize that most of the people that I was taking classes with didn’t have any of the infrastructure that I had waiting for me, and that that was incredible unique. It was there that I realized that yeah, I’ve got something that a lot of people wish they had, and I enjoy doing it anyways. Returned home, and started on the farm. My greater winter incomes quickly became being involved in Nordic skiing, and that’s been my yearly cycle ever since.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      You and I had a conversation when I visited you on the farm about Nordic skiing because we were roughly contemporaries in high school, and Fryeburg Academy had a pretty great ski team, still does I believe.

John Weston:                       I’d like to think so.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Yes, of course, as the ski coach over there. Yarmouth also has traditionally had a very good ski team. It’s interesting for me to think that this is something that you’ve continued to do for all of these years. Some people, high school sports, they fade into their backgrounds, but for you, this has remained strong.

John Weston:                       We were just having a conversation about this at a coach’s meeting that Nordic skiing is a life sport. Not that other sports can’t be, there’s obviously pick up soccer leagues, and basketball, and things like that, but Nordic skiing is certainly something that you do for a lifetime. Also from a high school point of view, certainly when I talk to a lot of the kids that I coach, the social aspect of it. If you play a team sport, yes, you’re very close to your team within your group in your school, but you never really go beyond your comfort zone and know kids from other schools.

I still, to this day, have … I wouldn’t say daily, but monthly interaction with people that I skied with. You meet them from other parts of the start, other parts of New England. Nordic skiers are generally a pretty self motivated group, so they’re gonna go out and accomplish a lot of things there. Yeah, that’s always something that’s struck me, is the number of people that I know that I skied with before, or used to be involved with the sport. I certainly think it’s a wonderful part of the … It’s an aspect of Maine, it’s a niche sport. It can struggle at times in the state of Maine as interest change and school budgets change, but we like to say that a lot of the kids that we’re coaching are then gonna go on and support the industry, whether it’s through buying season passes or being a shop manager or groomer. I hope it can certainly continue to thrive despite the climate at times. We can’t make snow the way other ski areas can, so it’s been a struggle for certainly for some of the teams in southern Maine.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Yeah. Even back when I was in high school, many years ago, the climate still didn’t permit for snow on the ground consistently, every single winter. We actually would often travel to Fryeburg or Sacopee Valley, or other western parts of the state to ski. One thing that is interesting about skiing is that it keeps … Well, coaches and students outside. It keeps you in a time of year when people are generally wanting to just hunker down. My son played basketball, my daughter played basketball, my other daughter swims, but I was a skier. I was out there in those elements. It really does keep you connected to the seasonality of the state.

John Weston:                       Yeah, it’s an outside winter activity. It has those challenges. Certainly, a sport that has affected skiing in Maine is indoor track, which is another just indoor type of sport. No, as I said, it’s a self motivated group. A lot of times, the kids that I’m coaching or that we’re all coaching are the student council president or they’re involved in a lot of music and plays and all that. That drive helps overcome of that, “Yeah, I’m going out in the winter and putting on a race suit and going through those challenges.” Locally here, I think the Portland area certainly enjoyed Pineland. They’ve done a wonderful job of keep that sport local and not having to travel quite so much. From Fryeburg’s point of view, we’re just on that cusp of the snow belt, so a lot of times … In fact, today was a couple inches on the snow this morning when I drove down here and drove out of it fairly quickly. It’s nice that for our league, an hour away, we can have pretty much guaranteed snow.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      This self motivation that you’re describing, I would imagine this would be fairly important if you are going to be a farmer, if you are going to work with your hands in an industry where there’s some built in uncertainty with things like weather, for example, or market forces. How have you used this internal motivation to continue to work in this business?

John Weston:                       I can’t lie and say it’s a bit of a hardening process. It’s life. Life is a hardening process. Certainly, as I have had to go through some natural disasters and things that have affected our farm, it’s scary, you don’t know how it’s going to play out, but you have to have faith in your business and your family and that you can work your way through that. I certainly feel that from my point of view, that you’re better on the other side of it. You don’t like going through it at the time, but no, I think you have to have that toughness, that understanding that the hard work and you’ll get through it.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      There’s also a very strong sense of being connected to the community that I think your farm participates in. Last summer, one of the reason that we went down there is that you reached out and invited us to your community dinner, which was delicious, all the local vegetables. I think you sent me home with an enormous bag of corn, which is probably the best corn I’ve ever had, by the way.

John Weston:                       Glad to hear that.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Wonderful there. Also really impressive was the number of people that showed up to sit and essentially break bread together.

John Weston:                       That dinner has covered a lot of … The one you came to was our fourth. It’s covered a lot of ground for us, both personally, as you say, to give back to the community, to have that feeling of bringing everybody together for a simple, easy cause. It’s been wonderful from a business point of view, because as you stated, it’s a time of year we can showcase our vegetables. We see a large bump in the preceding weeks when people are coming in to buy some of those products. That was an unintended benefit, but it’s been very nice. That all started when, I think there was a PBS show called Out Standing in the Field. I don’t know if you ever heard of that, but that, I think put farm to table dinners more in the forefront. Our local chamber decided that they would get together a few local farms and we would do one of those.

They were nice events, and it worked out very well, but what stuck with me was the pricing of it. Very expensive ticket, they were made to be very exclusive, and I think that that’s a formula that you see a lot of other people use now. That these are very, very high end events, which is fine, but to me, it’s sending the wrong message. It’s saying that local food should only be available to those that can afford it and that’s not what I wanted. From that, we did that for a few years, and then that peated out a little bit. Then we had Hurricane Irene in I believe, it was 2012, getting back to our flooding conversation.

That was a flood that came at the absolutely worst time of year, which was the end of August. That’s when we had our highest crop, all of our summer crops are in full harvest, we’re just getting ready for our fall crops. They were all underwater. Effectively, we had to destroy all of it. As much as that was a tough hit for us personally, there were a number of other farms that were affected the same way. What struck me was that there was a lot food lost for our community. 100 years ago, that would have been major, but in today’s world, you can just go to the grocery store. People otherwise wouldn’t really know that, they wouldn’t … Yes, you can go and get your tomato. It may not taste as good as the one that you’d get locally, but you can still have it.

From that, I wanted to try to do something that’s let’s say, “Let’s bring something back to the forefront here where we can just focus on this.” I’m fortunate to be friends and associated with Carol Noonan in Stone Mountain Arts Center, and we were out to dinner one night. Carol’s a forward thinker as well. We were just throwing things around, and we said, “Well, what if we did our own dinner? And what if we charged nothing? What if it was just free?” We said, “Well, what about numbers?” “Well, how about 500?” So the very first year, that’s what we did. We did a completely free meal. We provided the vegetables, and we brought in a few other like minded people. The Oxford House in Fryeburg, and people that could help us out.

Couldn’t have asked in any outside event like that, we had great weather. I’m sure that how many annual events have never happened a second time because they had bad weather. We had great weather, the event went great, and we just couldn’t have asked for anything more. People have really responded to it in a number of ways, not just being gracious towards that it’s free and you’re bringing the community together, but part of our formula was there’s no speeches, there’s no 50/50 raffles, there’s no silent auctions, we didn’t want that. We wanted you to just come and focus on one event. The first few years, we actually had some … I would say backlash, but people saying, “You’re not capitalizing on things. You should put out a donation box for this charity.” We’re like, “No, no, no, that’s not what we want.”

It sometimes is amazing to hear people’s reaction to that. They almost don’t know how to handle it because our world is so complicated and where do you go where you’re not bombarded? You can’t watch the news without things scrolling across the screen and everything else. The formula was just to be very basic and very simple, and it’s worked well.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      One of things that I enjoyed about our meal is that we sat at a picnic table with people that we had never met before, who were nice enough to offer us a place at the end of the bench. We got to talk to them a little bit about where they were from and how they came to Maine, and how they came to the farm in particular. It struck me that that’s not an opportunity that you get very often in this day and age, to sit down with people for no other reason than that they’re next to you, that they offer you a place. We go to the restaurants, and we sit by ourselves often times, or we have these very self select populations that we work within. Has that been an unintended, or maybe an intended consequence of the dinners that you’re offering?

John Weston:                       Sure. We weren’t exactly going into it, we weren’t exactly how it was all going to play out. Just the logistics of it to start with, we weren’t sure what 500 people was going to look like. Where they going to come all at once? Was it going to get spread out? Where do you seat them? All those things. Part of also what we did, is it’s something that I would like to do for a while. I don’t like the concept of doing something like that as a flash in the pan. It’s something that I wanted to do for a while, so we wanted to keep it simple, but also not do it every year. I think that that’s a big part of it. We’ve been doing it every two years, and what that does it people can’t say, “Well, I’ll just go next year.” Well, you can’t go next year, you’ve got to come this year.

It puts a little higher priority on it. What we’ve basically been finding is that people will come, and we offer it for a two hour window. People will come and they’ll stay to have the experience that you talked about, which we wanted, but we weren’t sure what it was going to wind up being. They can come and they can talk to people. Some of the nice comments that you hear is, “I grew up with this person and we live in the same town, I never talk to ’em. We talked for a half hour the other night at your place.” Yeah, those are the small little victories that you like to see, the unintended benefits.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      That’s also a nice reminder that the food can really shine on its own. That it was obviously very well and lovingly prepared by Carol and the rest of the people that offered the dinner. When you’re eating fresh corn, or when you’re having … I think my favorite part was maybe the maple syrup on the vanilla ice cream, which I don’t think I’ve had since I was a kid. You really can just taste the food in a way that’s different than when we go out places. It gets dressed up or made to feel fancy, I guess. Which is also good, it’s just different.

John Weston:                       Yeah. It can be over prepared, and that’s another reason for what we came up with. Yeah, and I’ll be the same way. I don’t want to eat that plainly every single night, but part of what we’re offering, sweet corn. Yes, we have butter, but a lot of people don’t even use it. Raw carrots, some basic salads and things like that. I remember we had a farm meeting once, and they just brought out a plate of fresh asparagus. You often forget about how good something is just on its own. If you’re gonna go out to a restaurant, yes, you feel like it has to be prepared a little bit more for you. I understand those formulas, but not, that was definitely a part of it, is that we want to have the focus be on the food. It’s easy when you get restaurants and chefs involved that they want to add their touches to it and increase that part of. That’s why I say with Carol at Stone Mountain, and Johnathon at the Oxford House. Like minded people. They understood very quickly what the concept of this was, and there’s never been any internal fight that way.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      One of the things that I continue to hear about from people who have lived in Maine a long time is the necessity of having different things that they do as income streams. This is something that we have really never given up on. As a community, many of us are doing more than one job. This is certainly true in your case. You have a farm, but you have a farm that sells Christmas trees, and you sell sweet corn in the summer, and you also work as a Nordic ski coach. It seems to be the nature of it if you choose to live in a place like Maine.

John Weston:                       Yeah. I wish that that could translate more into a seasonal workforce. Like any small business, our number one probably is our labor source. If there was more of some sort of established seasonal workforce that could move from the farms in the summer, tourist industry, into the ski industry. A lot of that’s based on healthcare. People have to have those benefits. I understand that, but labor is a big problem for any small business, and especially for a farm, a seasonal farm. We close our doors for the first quarter of the year. We go from maybe a payroll at 18 during the summer to zero. That’s a big challenge for a rural state.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Maybe as we have these conversations, solutions will continue to bubble to the surface. We haven’t solved them yet, but it seems like maybe even you’ve already identified one. Ski industry, farm, there’s got to be some ways that this can be approached that maybe we just haven’t thought of yet.

John Weston:                       You would hope so. I’d be very open that we have two Jamaicans that come and work for us. They’ve been with us, the same men for 10 years. They’re like family to us that are part of a federal Visa program. This year, we had two girls from Romania as a part of the J1 Visa program. Both of those programs are being discussed in the bigger government, and so we have to watch that. The truth is, is that a lot of the Maine workforce, or a lot of the Maine businesses are dependent on foreign labor. That can easily get into a larger societal discussion, but no, those are the facts of reality. It’s something that we have to deal with, and you would never think that as a small farm, that I’d have to be up on the current immigration policies, but I do. It’s another ruffle of being a small business.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well, I appreciate the work that you’re doing.

John Weston:                       Thank you.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I know that it’s complicated, and I know that you have to think in small ways and big ways on a regular basis, but I do appreciate it and I appreciate your having us as guests this summer at your farm dinner. Hopefully we’ll make it down not next summer, but the summer after that. Two years.

John Weston:                       That’s right.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I’ve been speaking with John Weston, who is a seventh generation farmer, who currently grows 60 acres of fresh vegetables out in the Fryeburg area. Thank you so much for coming in.

John Weston:                       Thank you.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest, and it located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work on contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

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Dr Lisa Belisle:                      You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 331. Our guests have included Birch Shambaugh and John Weston. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as @drlisa, and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr Lisa Belisle, thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producer is Brittany Cost, our assistant producer is Shelby Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #330: Mitchell Lench and Jessie Dowling + Sam May

Introducer:                            You are listening to Love Maine Radio. Hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                             This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 330. Airing for the first time on Sunday, January 14, 2018. Today’s guests include Mitchell Lench, founder of Treetops Capital, which invests in sustainable agriculture and aquaculture businesses here in Maine. Jessie Dowling, the owner of Fuzzy Udder Creamery and President of the Maine Cheese Guild, and Sam May, Advisory Board Chair at the Maine Harvest Credit Project. Thank you for joining us.

Introducer:                            Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its news expanded space including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                             Mitchell Lench is Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Treetops Capital, an impact investment and management company founded in 2008. He previously worked in finance in several institutions, including Bank of America and Credit Suisse. Thanks for coming in today.

Mitchell Lench:                   Thank you for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             Talk to me about Treetops Capital. What is that and what are you doing in this job?

Mitchell Lench:                   Treetops Capital is an impact investment management firm. Impact investing, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is investing with deliberate impact, generally social and environmental impact, but also trying to achieve financial returns. There are certain areas that you can have both. You can have a market based solution to a problem as opposed to just using philanthropic dollars to achieve that call. Within the impact investing world we focused our first fund was in the microfinance area where it was focused in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We also have a fund in Romania focused on agribusiness so missing links into the value chain in terms of the agricultural market there. More recently in Maine we’ve been focusing on aquaculture investments.

Lisa Belisle:                             So how did you get interested in this type of work?

Mitchell Lench:                   My interest in it really started back in graduate school. I went to a program, it was an international public affairs program at Columbia that early on in my career, before even my career really started, the whole area of sustainable development was really starting to emerge. At that time it was kind of after the 70s and 80s there was a lot of money being thrown at issues and with famine relief that weren’t very effective. What I kind of learned in the graduate program is that in order for programs to be sustainable, development to be sustainable, generally there needs to be a market based element to that as well so you don’t crowd out local. Say, if it’s a famine issue, local farmers. Through that program it was kind of a good combination of learning about economic and political development but also getting some hard skills in business and finance.

Lisa Belisle:                             As you’re talking I’m remembering the 80s and I guess even into the 90s a little bit where we were trying to solve problems like failing farms or famine across the ocean, and Hands Across America. Big relief programs that we all wanted to join into. Even then there being some skepticism as to whether these things actually worked. Was this some awareness that you became … Is this something you became immediately aware of when you were watching this all unfold?

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, I mean, I think I learned more from some of the people who had been living through that for those years where they’ve realized there were a lot of unintended consequences to very, what were good intentions of famine, for instance, the famine relief issue. What really we focused on is how do you harness the market based issues and locally, how do you make sure that you’re working within either the local capital markets or working with local business people? At that point microfinance, which was hardly known to anyone, was the big buzzword and I learned about how you can empower people with small business loans and how that can really affect people’s lives much more than necessarily giving them a small donation.

Lisa Belisle:                             So give me an example of an unintended consequence.

Mitchell Lench:                   Unintended consequence in terms of, for instance, the famine issues were there was a lot of food flown in from the US and Western Europe into it was mainly in Africa at the time where the famine was occurring. What would happen is that the local farmers could not compete with all the free food coming in and then they went out of business and they couldn’t pay their bills and keep their farms going. Then you have a continuous circle of famine because you’ve kind of eliminated a lot of the farmers who were involved in that market.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s actually really distressing to hear that that goes on. Especially given that most people who donate to a relief effort are hoping to do good, not hoping to perpetuate a problem.

Mitchell Lench:                   Right, and I think now in today’s world and development world, whether it’s the UN, or UNICEF, or World Bank, I think almost all the development institutions, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, they have this awareness and they’re very aware of how you don’t crowd out local markets when you’re trying to solve an issue. I think we’ve moved on far from back in the 70s and the 80s.

Lisa Belisle:                             Tell me how your organization has gone from focusing overseas to focusing on something that’s very close to home and aquaculture.

Mitchell Lench:                   When I moved up to Maine in 2011 and when I moved to Maine I was determined to do something more local and I had spent most of my career in developing markets and I find it interesting, and I think there’s huge needs that still occur, but also I had this urge to do something closer to home, not to mention I have a couple kids and I wanted to not be on the plane as much. When I came to Maine I started going to some of these aquaculture conferences that U of Maine were putting on and learning about different parts of that market. Aquaculture particularly got me … I became interested because one, Maine has a very good infrastructure for aquaculture. I think in terms of the US we may be the leading state in aquaculture. We have a lot of universities and research centers involved. Also, from helping the oceans and from a sustainability issue, I think aquaculture has to be part of the whole problem we’re having with overfishing and different degradation of our waters.

That’s how I kind of … I started learning just by going to some of these sessions being put on and then I started, I got involved in an investment in a yellowtail onshore farm called Acadia Harvest, which was a first yellowtail farm really in the US. Really interesting technology they were using. The fish were being bought by some very high end restaurants and distributors loved the fish. It was a way to have more local fish without overfishing in terms of the water.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yellowtail is a tuna?

Mitchell Lench:                   There is a yellowtail tuna and I actually don’t … I don’t know exactly, which part of the species of yellowtail in terms of the [inaudible 00:08:42], but it’s a high end fish that if you go to a sushi restaurant, yellowtail is quite common. That’s one of the, or I think, one of the opportunities is in the aquaculture market is on the higher end fishes that are generally flown in. 90% of the fish that we eat in America is not only brought in from other countries, but it’s flown in. If you can kind of eliminate flying in fish from say, Japan or other places and growing it locally it has a huge impact I believe.

Lisa Belisle:                             Aquaculture, so you’ve just described one type of fish. Does it also include things like oysters, mussels, seaweed, or is there some other broader definition?

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, I mean sometimes there’s other terminology in terms of mariculture and the rest, but it’s all under the aquaculture umbrella and Maine, I think, is most known for its shellfish aquaculture as well as seaweed, which is becoming a very big part of this industry in terms of aquaculture. I partnered with a fellow named Tollef Olson who had been one the pioneers in farming seaweed and we created a business called Ocean’s Balance. Our goal is to try to mainstream seaweed into American’s diets so it’s not this exotic ingredient, but it’s more of something you would eat in your everyday soup or stew. It has so many positive benefits both for the ocean as well as for your health. Not to mention it has glutamates, these amino acids, which give gives the umami flavor so you can reduce some of the salt intake in terms of other food you’re eating.

Lisa Belisle:                             You’re definitely singing a tune that I have sung before. I love seaweed.

Mitchell Lench:                   That’s great.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think it’s really important for health and I actually, I believe that we are going to see with its increased use, decreased thyroid problems in our population in the state of Maine.

Mitchell Lench:                   That’s something a lot of people are unaware of, but it does in terms of the iodine and regulating thyroid issues and plus all of the other vitamins, 60 some odd vitamins and minerals. It is just this wonder food. One of the things that impressed me most about seaweed, especially looking also at finfish aquaculture. The issue you have in finfish aquaculture, one of the tough challenges that everyone’s really trying to focus on is the input of forage fish, small fish to feed the aquaculture fish. It’s not a very sustainable business model so they’re coming out with other ingredients that could be used that are not forage fish to have fish meal. In seaweed it’s the only zero input food I’m aware of where there’s no other feed that’s required that’s not naturally occurring in the ocean. There’s no pesticides. There’s no fresh water. From just a pure sustainable type of food source it’s unmatched as far as anything I’ve looked at.

Lisa Belisle:                             It also is known as something that essentially detoxifies the environment. We know that when they had their nuclear reactor problem over in Japan that they were finding that the seaweed was using … they were using it as a kind of giant sponge I guess to soak up a lot of the stuff that was being spewn out there.

Mitchell Lench:                   That is definitely the case. We’re looking at issues in terms of coastal remediation in terms of planting seaweed along more polluted parts of the coast, whether in Maine or elsewhere. This is something the nature conversancy is also evaluating. You may be familiar with the work that Nichole Price is doing at Bigelow Labs where she has sensors around seaweed farms looking at how it changes the water column from absorbing CO2, and nitrogen, and phosphorous. The studies are showing it has a halo effect in the area where you plant seaweed, which is positive from an acidification perspective, which also has an impact on our shellfish because the acidification is impacting the growth of shellfish. I think there’s all these untapped applications for seaweed way beyond just the food and fertilizer, which you hear most about. The Department of Energy, just to give you an example, just put out a call for proposal and they gave out grants for 22 million dollars. Maine absorbed some of that to scale up seaweed farming.

They were looking at it both from an energy source of biofuel, but other application as well because there’s beyond food. You have food and fuel. You have fertilizer. You have animal feed. The list goes on from there.

Lisa Belisle:                             Does it interest you that you have all of this financial background but you’ve really gotten drawn into the science of this, and more than the science, sort of the ecology and all of the sustainability factors that are involved? That’s a much bigger thing than just understanding finance.

Mitchell Lench:                   It is and I think kind of marrying those two parts together, having some … I’m really happy that I did spend some years working for some big financial institutions and learning how the markets work, how some of the financial technology, and learning some of the skills. Having that exposure plus some development exposure and putting those together, I think, is a good combination. I’m seeing more … What’s really encouraging to me is I’m seeing more and more students now who are kind of following that type of path where there’s now kind of a defined world of impact, and investing, and other areas of social entrepreneurs where it really didn’t occur back when I was in school but now that’s becoming more mainstream. I think a lot of issues that we’re facing where you had people who kind of come from cross disciplines like that, some important issues can be solved.

Lisa Belisle:                             Talk to me about Fish 2.0.

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, Fish 2.0, which I just got back from last week. It was at Stanford University. They hold this about every year or two. It’s a … What they do, they put it together as a contest to bring all different types of sustainable seafood and fisheries, technology, companies together to pitch new ideas. The reason they have it out at Stanford is you have the Silicon Valley and you have a lot of new venture capitalist who are interested in maybe taking some of their earnings and wealth and putting it some good use in terms of some of these new technologies that are emerging.

Some of the areas that they’re focusing on are these alternative fish feeds. Aquaculture becomes more sustainable. They make fish feed now out of algae products. Out of black soldier fly larvae. A whole mix of things and these were companies that presented on that. Also, things like bycatch. Fish that are caught out on fishing vessels that the fishermen don’t actually want and they have now smart releases in their nets to allow those fish to survive. A whole slew of interesting new developments going on in the seafood world from the consumer perspective all the way to the fishermen in aquaculture. It’s just a great gathering of people and there’s really one or two people who put this all together and I think they’re having tremendous success in changing the way our oceans are fished and try and protect it.

Lisa Belisle:                             What lessons do you think that we here in Maine can learn from work that is being done across the nation, and really across the world?

Mitchell Lench:                   I think Maine, in some ways, is a leader within the US in a lot of aquaculture technology and new developments. Also, there’s a lot of issues going on overseas that I think Maine can learn from. My own hope is that Maine becomes more of also a technology hub with aquaculture where we have some of the bioscience, maybe people from Boston moving up. I know the Gulf of Maine Research institute is very interested in encouraging that and some other institutions here in Maine. We have, I think, almost all the right ingredients to really create a viable industry outside of just the production of farmed fish. A lot of that I think requires bringing in some new people as well into the state that have certain science backgrounds to help this technology move forward.

Lisa Belisle:                             How do we get the people who have lived in Maine and have fished and farmed along the coast, really for hundreds of years, how do we get them into conversations with people who are more on the technology side of things?

Mitchell Lench:                   I think there’s quite a bit of education going on right now with coastal communities, with fisherman. The Island Institute is doing some great work. They just did whole seaweed study to bring more fishermen and lobster men into the seaweed industry. U of Maine puts on a whole slew of programs, which we’re involved with some in terms of teaching aquaculture and the science of aquaculture to both students, but also to adults. To teachers, we did a … Tollef and my colleague Lisa Scali did a boot camp for teachers this summer with the University of Maine to start getting them educated in terms of how aquaculture and science mix together. I think there are some really interesting developments going on and I think if more people get involved in doing that we’ll see some transition going on with some of the communities, local communities.

Lisa Belisle:                             I would assume that there are things that people who are in aquaculture and biotech could actually learn from individuals who have been out there doing this type of work for decades.

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, that’s absolutely correct. I think it’s two way street in terms of the knowledge base and the Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association, I think they do a really good job in terms of bringing the fishermen together with other constituents. We learn from them and it’s not just a scientist looking at this in a very sterile environment. I’m a trustee at the Nature Conservancy in Maine and very focused right now on marine science and changing the focus away from just forestry. Although, forestry is still a key part into looking at different solutions, whether it’s from a river, the Penobscot River Project to projects in the Gulf of Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             One of the things that has been happening lately is conversations around bringing environmental regulations. Deciding whether they belong more at the state level, more at the national level. It seems like it would be really a problem if we decided that every state should really be responsible for whatever was going on within its borders and ignore the fact that the borders really don’t mean anything to the trees, and the rivers, and things that grow.

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, I think there is … Some issues I think right now being decided at a local level, luckily, I think within for Maine the local momentum for creating sustainable aquaculture and some other programs is moving in, I think, a good direction. Maine can act as a demonstration state for other states in our country that may be not as progressive. In terms of the balance between federal, there has to be some strong federal regulations. In some ways the US has some of the strictest regulations and I’m talking now about aquaculture because that’s an area that I see this in most. What’s going on is you were mentioning between federal and state, but it’s also international. So the lowest common denominator countries, a lot of times is where the production flows to. So some parts of Latin America or some parts of Asia. Really what I would like to see is even at a federal level, more encouragement of sustainable aquaculture in the US so we don’t have so much production going overseas, or we’re not really paying attention, because what’s happening in South America can really impact us where we live as well.

Lisa Belisle:                             What would you ideally like your children to grow up with? I know that you have two children, you’re married, you live in Cape Elizabeth. You mentioned when they were younger you really wanted to kind of be more available to them as a parent. What type of world do you want to see them live in?

Mitchell Lench:                   I want … One of the main reasons wanted to move to Maine and with the kids is having grown up and coming to Maine a lot as a child and the nature here, I think, just living in Maine with the wilderness and being exposed to it and the people around you. I think that has the biggest influence on my kids and in a very positive way. I also, I try to expose them to some of the issues going on without scaring them. Some of the ecological issues going on in the world. Showing them where they can have some impact in their lives.

I think Maine, with so many institutions in Maine, whether it’s GMRI doing the program for sixth graders or fifth graders, they have an awareness that I know going back to cities where we have some friends, the kids are not growing up with that type of awareness around them. I’m actually pretty hopeful that my kids will be pretty evolved by the time they get to be adults and hopefully they pursue something that they’re very thoughtful in terms of what their career … the impact their career could have on the world.

Lisa Belisle:                             What is your most interesting or exciting venture as of right now that Treetops Capital is a part of?

Mitchell Lench:                   One of the most exciting ventures right now is a project we have going on in Romania, which is a mushroom compost factory. It sounds kind of esoteric and not something very well known, but they’re actually very complex factories or farms to put together. They’re large investments. Romania, for years, for decades, they had imported compost, which is a very heavy substrate to import from Hungary and from the Netherlands. That was having a … just dampening any prospects of growing a real mushroom industry in Romania. There was a lot of mushroom farmers who were just not able to compete with other countries. We built, with the help of the US government as well, providing some financing and then private investors, a full commercial scale production facility of compost, which is now producing compost for small farmers, mushroom farmers throughout Romania. So, that’s exciting.

Lisa Belisle:                             That is fascinating. Along with seaweed, compost is another one of my favorite topics so I feel like we’re on the same wavelength here. I appreciate your coming in today. I’ve been speaking with Mitch Lench, Mitchell, who is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Treetops Capital and Impact Investment and Management Company found in 2008. Keep up the good work.

Mitchell Lench:                   Great. Thank you, very much.

Introducer:                            Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port. Where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie Dowling is the owner of Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitfield and President of the Maine Cheese Guild. Sam May is the Advisory Board Chair at the Maine Harvest Credit Project, an organization aiming to open a credit union supporting small farms and food businesses.

Thank you for coming in.

Sam May:                                 Thank you for having us.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, thanks for having us.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m interested in what you’re doing because we talk a lot about creating sustainability for small businesses and this is a very important step. Making funds available through a credit union, which is interesting.

Sam May:                                 Yeah, well, it’s very interesting. It’s also an innovative approach. Maine farms and food businesses definitely need access to appropriately priced and scaled financing. Maine Harvest Credit Project, which is looking to form a credit union statewide under the auspices of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association (MOFGA) and Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) to create a financing platform that can be available to farmers for farmland access and food producers on a statewide basis.

Lisa Belisle:                             So why a credit union versus just a small bank?

Sam May:                                 Well, the short answer is that we’re raising 2.4 million to start a credit union. To start a new bank would be 25 to 35 million so it in order of magnitude less. We believe a credit union is the right platform to use. Obviously it’s less expensive. It also is a member governed cooperatively structured institution. It can use a lot of … It has access to a lot of resources that in the form of a bank would be too big for the scale of the problem in Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie, tell me what your experience has been with this organization.

Jessie Dowling:                    Well, I’ve been in communication with Sam May and Scott Budde and I’ve been really excited for the potential for a credit union that’s focusing on farmers and the farm based business because farmers like me end up in a situation where we have a hard time finding the credit for the projects that we’re doing. You can get a mortgage from the Farm Service Agency, but there’s a lot of red strings attached around how much milk you produce on your farm if you’re making cheese, or how much of the raw product you’re producing and if you’re doing a value added product. It might not make sense to produce it all yourself right away as you’re trying to build your business. That’s where I have been really interested in the Maine Harvest Credit Union.

Lisa Belisle:                             It sounds like what the Maine Harvest Credit Union would be able to offer would be kind of something more along the small scales that small farms and small businesses would need.

Sam May:                                 Well, we think it’s appropriately scaled. We envision three loan products. One is the land loan product in the $250,000 range and then business loans in the $100,000 range and equipment loans in the $25,000 range. Your typical evolving farm, diversified farm in Maine often is looking at farmland in the $200,00 to $300,000 price range. We can offer a product that would be very compelling with excellent rates for that sort of access. In Jessie’s case, Maine cheese producers, a lot of our stronger evolving smaller foodstuff manufacturers that are concentrating on very high quality local product, sourced from local products, they really are looking at business loans for expansion of a cheese room, a dairy room. In the $50,000 to $150,000 size. We’re gonna be appropriately … That’s gonna be right in our sweet spot in terms of what we lend. It’s not for really big, big, big projects. They will move on to commercial banks, but for the evolving small food producer in Maine that needs a new cheese room or a new cider processing facility for hard cider, some of the craft distilleries, they are in need of funds that would be right in our sweet spot.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie, how did you choose to focus on cheese?

Jessie Dowling:                    Oh, well, I did a Masters in Food Policy in London and was learning about kind of food issues and food insecurity, and issues with industrial agriculture on a global scale, and I felt like the best way I could really make a difference was to become a farmer and I worked on a lot of different farms and I found myself through the MOFGA, Maine Organic Farmer’s Gardener’s Association’s apprenticeship program. I found two apprenticeships, one at a sheep dairy and one at a goat dairy in Appleton and Union. I just … It just clicked. I started working for Appleton Creamery and I stayed there for five years until I learned that I wanted to do it on my own.

Lisa Belisle:                             I see that you have a goat tattoo on your arm so I’m assuming you must have an affinity for that particular animal.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, I started with goats. I also love sheep equally. Yeah. Sheep and goats milk is awesome. I also use cow’s milk cheese. I’m pretty into milks.

Lisa Belisle:                             Sam, is this part of the business important to you? I know that you are on the board of the Maine Organic Farmer’s and Gardener’s Association. You’re also on the steering committee of the Slow Money Maine Organization. Is food important to our economy?

Sam May:                                 I think food is very important to our economy and a re-localized food system in Maine, it’ll have a lot of health benefits for people. We know that nutrient dense food is much … is incredibly important for people’s health. I would just back up and say a word about MOFGA and MFT, Maine Farmland Trust. We’re very blessed in this state to have very strong institutions that have been working very hard for a long period of time. MOFGA through its journey person program is training new farmers. Maine Farmland Trust is helping to find access to farmland for farmers. The restaurant community here in Portland is a huge … is hugely important in this sector.

Mainers have an appreciation … We’ve always had an appreciation for local food. Blueberries, lobsters, fiddleheads, you know, we like to eat food in season, but we import 95% of the food we consume comes from out of state. There’s a keen interest in a revitalized food system in Maine. The Portland restaurant scene definitely showcases all of that. We have a lot of producers working hard that have been trained through MOFGA, Maine Farmland Trust, to be on the land, to be producing food, and now making value added great tasting cheeses, craft brews, craft distills, foodstuff, food products. We have a lot of work to do to revitalize that infrastructure and those production facilities. We need access to fairly priced capital for growth to occur in those sectors.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is there something about the emotional connection that we make with food and specifically locally produced foods like goat’s milk cheese, or sheep’s milk cheese, or even a cow’s milk cheese, that is going to help us be more successful in the future at getting locally grown and locally created products available on a more year round basis?

Sam May:                                 Jessie, do you want to speak to that first because you’re a producer?

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, I would say yes. Obviously I’m biased but I do believe that farmers are the best stewards of the land and if we take care of our land and environment we’ll be able to produce more food for people, for multiple generations. I think industrial agriculture has proven time and time again that it’s not sustainable and so not only is it better for the environment, but knowing who’s growing your food, knowing how they’re taking care of their animals, knowing about where that food is coming from. I have to believe that that is going to make a difference in the future.

Sam May:                                 Yeah, I think it’s going to make a tremendous difference. Consumers have a real desire to eat locally sourced food because they understand the health benefits of that. They also understand the community benefit of that. It’s a re-localized food economy, which will help to revitalize our rural economies and it will also help with population health. People understand that. Look at the growth in fermented foods. The connection to the microbiome to the important health considerations for eating fermented foods for personal health, but I think a lot of people are responding to fermented foods. There’s an explosion in fermented foods. We have some great producers of a wide variety of fermented food products. Do people … Are they going out and shopping because they want their microbiome to be healthy? No, but they do know that at some intuitive level. I think that’s an important … people want to eat a locally produced cheese, a locally sourced milk. People are interested in terroir in their wine. Well, why shouldn’t they make the connection to their parsnip?

It’s the same set of features. It’s a revitalized soil that is producing the health benefits in the foods that people are eating. Then you have all the economic multiplier effects of producing and sourcing food that’s local.

Lisa Belisle:                             In many of the conversations I’ve had recently I’m running across people similar to you, Jessie, that have an academic background in the subject but also very practical interest in the subject of food systems. It seems like this is becoming more and more important that the two worlds need to co-exist. Actually along with the idea of being able to finance things.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, I think that the more you know the more you realize you don’t know and I felt like learning how to actually produce food was the best way to influence farm policy. That’s why I’m really excited to be working with the Maine Cheese Guild to promote cheese in Maine. We’re really hoping that when people look at Maine and they think, “Oh, I’m gonna come to Maine for a vacation,” and they think lobsters and blueberries, they’re gonna also think, “Maine has these amazing cheeses.” We’re the fastest growing state in the country for cheese makers. We have probably more cheese makers per capita than anywhere. There’s almost 100 facilities in Maine that are making cheese and they’re all small scale. It’s a very exciting time to be a cheese maker.

I think the biggest issue with cheese making in Maine right now is we have all these new producers and as we all are learning to grow our businesses, we’re finding that going from a small scale to mid scale, to kind of trying to long term age our businesses is very difficult in this current economic climate, which is why I’m so excited to be talking more to the Maine Harvest Credit Project.

Sam May:                                 So, Lisa, on the sort of new immigrants to Maine, the well educated people that are coming here and looking at putting down some roots to become farmers or food producers, that’s an incredibly key aspect. MAFGA’s journey person program is there. Our traditional ways of passing on farming knowledge from one generation to the other have been broken by various larger economic forces and now we have a lot of young people that are college educated. They show up with a lot of interest and knowledge about global food issues but they don’t know how to fix a John Deere tractor. We have big infrastructure and educational gaps that have to be filled if we’re gonna bring this thing home and really revitalize and re-localize our food economy then we’re gonna have to have infrastructure elements there. Maine Harvest Credit Project, Credit Union being one of those.

We’re blessed here in Maine to have some very important institutions that have been working for a very long time, specifically MAFGA and Maine Farmland Trust that have been working to help provide training for young farmers. To help grow our markets. There’s a lot of support for our farmer’s markets and for our food distribution system. Maine Farmland Trust has a lot of very key programs for, not only protecting farmland, but putting that farmland back into the hands of young farmers for production. We also have our Slow Money Maine chapter here in Maine. It’s one of the largest in the country and it’s been working for several years, many years now to help provide financing for food entrepreneurs and a lot of other parties that are working on this very difficult problem of how do we actually reconstruct a local food system and have that food system underpinned by some of the elements of infrastructure that are so key.

Whether that’s new slaughterhouses or whether that’s some grain processing. I’m thinking of the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan, which has emerged as a very large player and is now contracting with farmers to grow human grade grains for milling and production. We also won, another instance I can think of is some of our barley malt producers, Blue Ox nearby in Lisbon. Our growth, growing main craft brewers are now able to source barley malt that’s grown in Maine and produced into barley malt here in Maine so they can produce 100% locally sourced barley malt for their beer. All those businesses have taken significant infrastructure upgrades that have required capital and I think that’s what we’re talking about. It’s very difficult to rebuild some of the elements of infrastructure that will underpin a re-localized food system.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie, you said that you spent time learning about the trade from a local farm and that was very important to you. How did you find out about the local farm needing someone who could take part in their organization in this learning capacity.

Jessie Dowling:                    Right, well that was one of the reasons why I was farming in Maine is that I had heard about MOFGA’s apprenticeship program and it was really easy online to read different listings of different farms and I visited about 12 farms in 2007 when I was looking to apprentice. I ended up settling up on Appleton Creamery and [inaudible 00:41:22] Sheep Dairy, which were in neighboring towns and split my time between the two. The listings were really helpful and I was able to then visit the farms and kind of make the right fit.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is this something that you had any experience with growing up when you were in school? I’m not sure exactly where you’re from.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, no, I’m originally from right outside Washington, DC from the Virginia side.

Lisa Belisle:                             So there’s not a whole lot of cows out there, or sheep?

Jessie Dowling:                    No, there’s actually no livestock in Arlington County. When I went to college in California, I went to one of the Claremont colleges in Claremont, California and there was a student led gorilla garden that became part of the college’s master plan on Pomona’s campus and because students were learning about farming on their own terms and then they planted hundreds of fruit trees on a small several acre plot, and the school saw how much learning was happening on this hands on way. It was really exciting part to be part of. I was hooked after that. It was like, wow, you can engage local community through food and that just sold it for me.

Lisa Belisle:                             Somehow you found your way to London to study this further.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, I worked at the Center for Food Safety as an intern in 2004 and I was working on fighting genetically modified foods in DC and I found out about some master’s programs in London that were on that topic and it was a very exciting time.

Sam May:                                 I think Jessie’s … you know, her story is interesting and it’s not all that normal. In some ways it’s exceptional, but in other ways it’s indicative of some of the strong work that’s been done here in Maine by MAFGA and MFT, and other institutions. Jessie went to college in California. She went to university in London. She’s from Washington, DC. How did she get to Maine and why did she come here and there were institutions on the ground that were working at solving real problems that she could see from a conceptual perspective were meaningful and important. Why did she end up on the ground here? That’s an interesting question and I think it’s because we’ve actually been doing a lot of good work here in Maine from a very Maine perspective to tackle problems locally.

The situation on the ground that she saw here in Maine attracted her from her big conceptual perspective of what the problem were in the world with food system. Now she find herself in Whitfield with sheep and goats, and a neighbor’s cows producing some really good cheese that’s resonating with the market. That’s what we have going for us here in Maine. We need to have other elements of infrastructure to support the growth of her vision and her product to take her craft artisan cheese to another level and allow her to grow to the level that she’s comfortable with. That doesn’t mean that she has to make the next largest nationwide cheese, but she has an opportunity to grow her business and the Maine Cheese Guild is working hard to support all the cheese producers in Maine to reach their full potential. That includes market development and it’s gonna also require infrastructure in terms of financing to help fund that.

Lisa Belisle:                             One of the questions that I have been pondering as you’ve been talking is the fact that Vermont is known for cows and cheese. We happen to be known for lobster, and blueberries, and I don’t know, I guess summer corn. We’ve always had cows so why did Vermont get to be known as the cheese place and the cow place? How did that happen?

Jessie Dowling:                    That’s a really good question. One thing that I do look at is that the way that government funding for cheese, there’s a … I’m not sure about the names of all the organizations, but there’s no money coming from the Maine State Government going to cheese, but I know that in Vermont there’s quite a bunch of funds that are going into the … I don’t know if it’s going directly to the Cheese Council or if it’s going to cheese makers, but I think their state government is more supportive of their cheese community. It might be because they do have that notoriety. I think they’ve had cheese making happening in Vermont perhaps on a larger scale longer. They have Cabot, a much larger producer than what we have in Maine. Our largest producer is Pineland Farms and they’re not, they’re large, but I don’t think they have the market reach that Cabot has so I think we’re a growing industry and hopefully over time we’ll get more support from our state government as well.

Lisa Belisle:                             It just speaks to the fact that there’s a lot of back story to all of these things. It’s not as straightforward as Vermont has good cows and therefore the best cheese, and therefore that’s what they’ve become known for. I mean, there are lobsters in other parts of the country, in other parts of the world and whatever it was about Maine, somehow that all worked to that benefit and now we have to figure out how to make it work for other industries.

Sam May:                                 So the lobster business in Maine is about, I think, the boat landing, it’s about a half a billion dollars in 500, 600 million dollars. That’s a large business but it has an iconic place in our consciousness. We’ve got a number of small food sectors. How big is craft brewing now in Maine? It may be approaching that amount. Cheese is maybe a $20 million a year, $25 million a year business in Maine. It could be $125 million a year in five years but there’s a lot of infrastructure required. I think Maine’s a large state. It’s as big as the other five states of New England combined.

We have twice the population of Vermont. There are a lot of other sectors that are vying and legitimately vying for mine share in terms of how Mainers conceive of their local food. I see no reason why artisan produced local cheese in Maine can’t become a much bigger element of Maine’s food consciousness. We have the land, we have the cows, we have the resources, and we have the young entrepreneurs such as Jessie and older entrepreneurs that are also working on cheese production. We want to be able to support the new food sectors that are going to emerge that make the best use of Maine’s resources, and certainly cheese is one of those, but there are a lot of other candidates here in Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             Did we have to almost go through this, I guess this downplaying of the importance of local foods in order for us to come back again so strong? I mean, back in the 80s there with big agriculture there were a lot of farms that failed in a very big way nationally, but I think also in Maine. It almost seems as though we had to get that far down to the bottom before we actually started to value small farms again. I’m just putting this out there as a thought.

Sam May:                                 Yeah, I don’t know if we had to. I mean the … Nixon’s USDA Secretary, Earl Butz, who was an Economist Engineer from Purdue, I believe, or maybe Notre Dame. I think it was Purdue. He’s the one who famously said, “Get big or get out.” There was a Wendell Berry movie at Space Gallery a couple of weeks ago and they were very clear about, yes there was a lot of emphasis on the USDA’s official government policy was, “We’re gonna scale up food production. We’re gonna reduce the number of farmers.” As a result of that the USDA has a rural program, which actually supports housing for displaced farm people in rural communities throughout the country. There were a lot of economic forces at work to scale up food and to marginalize, to de-emphasize, and to put out of business small scale producers.

That’s come at a tremendous, tremendous cost to population health in the US. We have a crisis of obesity, diabetes, chronic complex diseases. Those are all directly related to the production of an industrial commodity agriculture product that is the biggest vector of public disease in the country, I think, that we’ve ever experienced. We’re not gonna get out of that if we don’t have a better local nutrient dense food. It could be local, it could not be local. Local’s a good way to approach this. If you want to eat nutrient dense food that’s actually good for you and not a vector of public disease, try local organic, locally sourced food.

Lisa Belisle:                             This isn’t the first time that we’ve dealt with people who have come back to the land, essentially. Maine was known for this back several decades. It seems as though there’s almost a cyclical aspect to this. Would you agree?

Sam May:                                 Definitely. You asked me about how I got to Maine. I came to Maine in 1954 because my father was the first instructor of wood turning at Haystack two years after it was founded. Haystack Mountain School of Crafts was a back to the land movement of post World War II urbanites who wanted to move to New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont. The Nearings moved to Vermont in the early 1950s. I grew up in the back to the … I was from Maine. I didn’t have to move back to Maine, but when I graduated from college everybody was moving to Searsmont, and Montville, and Appleton in the 70s and the late 60s. We’ve had successive waves … This is a clear wave pattern. There is nothing … You can’t describe it as anything but a series of waves and we keep coming back to this, but now we have a very clear strong opportunity to catch this wave. Let’s get all 10 toes up on front of the board and be going down the wave, not be swimming to get up the wave.

We don’t want to miss this wave. This is an important opportunity and we’re so blessed here in Portland, we have a food business here in Portland, a restaurant scene that’s leading that way. We have a lot of consumers that are passionate about eating local food and we need to support the producers and the farmers and give them some economic vitality and viability. I couldn’t agree with you more, Lisa. This is just another wave, but let’s catch it a little better this time.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie, did you know that you are going to be part of this movement or did you just have a sense that you were following what you were following what it was that you were meant to be doing?

Jessie Dowling:                    Well, I think I had a political awakening when I was volunteering on a Native American reservation in Arizona when I was in college. Seeing the connection between people and land, and how important water was, and how if we don’t protect our environment then people can’t have the cultures that they have been having. Those connections just made me have a fire under me since then. I’m kind of on a track to supporting small scale local agriculture. That’s kind of my life goal.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, I appreciate you both taking the time out of your very busy schedules to come in today.

I’ve been speaking with Jessie Dowling who is the owner of Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitfield and President of the Maine Cheese Guild, and also Sam May who is an Advisory Board Chair at the Maine Harvest Credit Project, an organization aiming to open a credit union supporting small farms and food businesses.

Thank you, so much for your good work and for your time today.

Sam May:                                 Thank you, Lisa.

Jessie Dowling:                    Thank you for having us.

Lisa Belisle:                             You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 330. Our guests have included Mitchell Lench, Sam May, and Jessie Dowling. For more information on our guest and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our E-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Introducer:                            Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our Editorial Producer is Brittany Cost. Our Assistant Producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our Community Development Manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our Executive Producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Outro Songs:                         All is quiet on the Western front. I hear the ground beneath my feet. Scraping the crackle as I move along. There ain’t nobody here but me. But in a couple days they’ll open up the gates and the streets will flood with a thousand waves of people’s victories, some helpless on their knees, some wander aimlessly throughout their days.

For now it’s quiet as I walk around over the hill into the East. They drink the coffee sharing what went down. I shake my head and stir my tea, but in a couple days they’ll open up the gates and the streets will flood with a thousand wave of people’s victories, some helpless on their knees, some wander aimlessly throughout their days.

In a couple days they’ll open up the gates and the streets will flood with a thousand waves of people’s victories, some helpless on their knees, some wander aimlessly throughout their days.

So good.

How can you paint a picture of a person who is already a work of art? Who’ll be the last and surely not the first one. Couldn’t choose a perfect place to start. I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

If she were dollars she would be a billion. If she were water she would fill the sea. If she were taller she could crush a building. If she were honey I would be her bee.

I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

So all the black and white that filled these pages have run together into so much gray. Even though I don’t know how to read it, I just can’t seem to put this book away cuz I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her is he missed me too. Cuz I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me, missed me, missed me …

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #329: Al Miller and Lauren Wayne

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                             This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio show number 329, airing for the first time on Sunday, January 7, 2018. Today’s guests are Al Miller, artistic director of The Theater Project in Brunswick, and Lauren Wayne, general manager and talent buyer for Crobo, the organization that owns the State Theatre and Port City Music Hall. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                             Al Miller is the artistic director of The Theater Project, a nonprofit community-based theater in Brunswick. He also teaches theater workshops in various states as well as Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Thanks for coming in today.

Al Miller:                                  You’re welcome. Thanks for asking me.

Lisa Belisle:                             We got your name from Dr. Emily Isaacson who apparently really enjoyed her time with you at The Theater Project in Brunswick. I think it was a little while ago now.

Al Miller:                                  It was. Yeah, it was.

Lisa Belisle:                             Apparently, you’ve been doing this work for a little while?

Al Miller:                                  A long time. A long time.

Lisa Belisle:                             How did you start doing this?

Al Miller:                                  I came to Maine from the Middle East, and I took part of the year to write The Great American Novel, which was awful. Then I needed work, and I saw … Actually, my then wife saw an advertisement in the paper for a summer director for the Portland Children’s Theater. I’d done some directing with kids in the Middle East, so I applied and got the job. We toured the show, and I thought this is really fun and that was the beginning. Then, I started a children’s theater in Brunswick.

I had a Volkswagen camping van that we had used in the Middle East that we brought back, and this was before the days of seat belts. When we did a show, I’d cram the actors in there. The actors were junior high and high school kids, and we toured to different venues. Eventually, we got a real van and toured around the state with shows for schools, and families, and community groups. That’s the beginning.

Lisa Belisle:                             It sounds like things are actually even more interesting because you got your bachelor’s degree from Williams College and your master’s degree from the University of Michigan, and somehow you ended up in Lebanon. Those things don’t necessarily follow.

Al Miller:                                  No. It’s a long story. The short version.

Lisa Belisle:                             Short version, yes.

Al Miller:                                  I was at Harvard summer school due to a severe deficiency in freshman physics at Williams College, which took a long time to resolve. It was the summer of 1958 when there was a civil war in Lebanon. Eisenhower sent in the marines. There’s a coup d’état in Iraq, and there was a civil war in Jordan. King Hussein pretty much chased the Palestinians out or some of them. I got really interested in the Middle East. I had met a Saudi Arab who became a good friend and was going to Amherst, and I was going to Williams.

Our friendship continued and by the end of the summer, I wanted to go to the Middle East. I asked my friend Sahib, “How do I get to the Middle East?” He said, “Teach.” I’d never thought of teaching, nor surely had my college professors ever thought of my teaching. I asked him where. He said, “Apply to the school where I went before I came to Amherst,” which was an old Protestant mission school with a mainly Lebanese board of trustees for kids from Lebanon, and the Middle East, and a few from Europe. I applied and just kept applying, and I think they hired me so that I’d stopped writing them. That’s how I got it. Right after graduating from Williams, I had a job for two months that summer and then left.

Lisa Belisle:                             How does one get from physics, to teaching, to being an artistic director in theater? It sounds like maybe there was another path that you might have been going down.

Al Miller:                                  A friend, when I was in school freshman and sophomore year, you had to take a science. The only science I’d ever liked was biology of having taking it. I thought, “Well, I shouldn’t take it again,” so I asked a friend. Actually, a friend from the freshman football team because we had to be there early and I said, “What am I going to do? What will I take? What will I take?” He said, “Oh, take freshman physics. It’s nothing. It’s a breeze.” I took it and it became sophomore physics, and junior physics, and then finally I think from exhaustion, the physics prof passed me, let me go.

Lisa Belisle:                             This sounds like a pattern. The wearing down of people, eventually it just-

Al Miller:                                  Yeah, well, maybe it is. Maybe it is, yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was your field of study initially?

Al Miller:                                  English. I hesitate because of the word study. As an undergrad, I was a typical, not very serious undergrad. When I went to graduate school, that’s when I should have gone to college. That’s when I was really interested. I studied English. It’s like the narrator of The Great Gatsby that so I was qualified to do nothing or anything. I went out to teach English to mostly Europe high school kids.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was your master’s degree in?

Al Miller:                                  English. Then, I was interested. It still didn’t have much to do with … Then, I taught high school for a couple of years in the states. Then, I got the urge to go back to the Middle East and they were looking for someone to head the English Department and in other program at the same school, so back I went.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is there naturally a connection between drama and English? I mean, I think of Shakespeare obviously but …

Al Miller:                                  That way. What was my connection?

Lisa Belisle:                             I guess so, yeah.

Al Miller:                                  I never did theater when I was in school, not in elementary, high school, college, never. When I got to the Middle East, when I went back actually, there was a repertory theater in Lebanon who have worked with English speaking people, English speaking Lebanese, Brits, Americans. Every year, they did a show for kids and families. Then, they did a couple of other series shows of Shakespeare and whatever. The head of the Phys Ed Department of the school when I went back was a guy who had been the US National Trampoline Champion. He also juggled and I juggled. He taught me how to do the trampoline and then we used to juggle some and people found out.

When they wanted to cast the Emperor’s New Clothes, when they want to cast the two jesters, they thought, “Let’s get these two guys because they can roll around and juggle.” We did it and I loved it. I thought, “This is really fun,” which got me to get a theater program going at the school. Later that year, they did Waiting for Godot and asked me to do that, and I did that, and I’m not sure I understood it because I didn’t study it in college but I loved it. I think by the time I’d finished, we did a run of maybe three weeks at a little theater in town, and I think by the time I’d finished that, I decided I’m going to do something with this. I kept working with kids, and then when I came back here started something. Two years ago, did Waiting for Godot again.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you understand it better now?

Al Miller:                                  I do. I do.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting that you had zero background. I mean, a lot of people in the theater it’s from like they’re born, and they began breathing theater. You had zero background and just almost on a whim, they cast you in this production. Then all of a sudden, it just kind of opened up something inside.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is that something that you see yourself with children these days?

Al Miller:                                  Do I see it in kids?

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah. Is that an experience that’s common in children?

Al Miller:                                  I don’t know. I think what I infer from it is if we’re open, we’ll find what we want to do. I never would have guessed that I do theater, nor before that I never would have guessed that I would teach. Once I decided to teach as a way to get to the Middle East, I wouldn’t have said that I’m going to be crazy about it. Then, I ended up loving teaching. I would say if there’s some force that some mystical way leads us where we ought to be, that it was successful with me. I think I’m doing … I have a dream job. I love what I do. I get to teach. I get to write. I get to direct. I clowned for a while. I act once in a while, and I work with people all the time. Where that come from? I sort of stumbled into it but it’s all worked.

Lisa Belisle:                             What about your family? Does your family have any background in the arts?

Al Miller:                                  No. My mother did something with children’s theater. She helped start a theater in my hometown. I think I … No, I don’t think. I vaguely remember this. I tried out for something when I was about nine or 10 years old. I remember my mother saying to me, she worked with another woman running this little theater, the junior theater I think it was called. Her saying to me at home that she couldn’t put me in the play because she worked at the theater but that I was very good. I said, “Oh thanks,” and never took another step toward theater until stumbling into it with juggling.

Lisa Belisle:                             Obviously, people are very attached to their childhood experiences in the arts, music, theater because we’ve had multiple people who have said to us, “Oh, I worked with Al Miller at The Theater Project. I still remember …” and they can give very exact details about their experiences.

Al Miller:                                  Oh, really?

Lisa Belisle:                             There are lots of things in childhood that we do that we don’t remember at all, or if we remember them, they certainly don’t have positive connotations. What is it about what you are offering that you think has such appeal?

Al Miller:                                  I think theater is fun. I think when we get older, it scares us. “Oh, I could never do that.” I hear that all the time. “Oh, I could never get up there and do that.” Kids are more experimental. It’s fun. They learn responsibility because in the end they’re doing it whether I’m the director or somebody else says, “We’re not doing it.” “They’re out there, there you go. Go get them.” There are different ways to communicate in theater. Sometimes, I found especially in work in schools, the teachers will say, “Billy has never spoken once in class, and here he is doing this amazing work and this project that involves theater.”

Theater isn’t the only way. Music is another way. Dance is another way. The outdoors is another way. Kids, we do know that not all kids learn the same way. We can also remember when we were kids, we did the stuff that was fun. What are you doing? You go out and play. Often, we’re doing theater kind of play to make up stories whether it’s cops and robbers, or prince and princess, or whatever it is. That’s in us. Plus, I think people love storytelling. I don’t think they would say that necessarily, but I still find when I’m storytelling that there’s sort of this hubbub at the beginning and then it turns into, if it’s a good story, it turns into listening and really being involved. I don’t think we don’t know that. Kids don’t know that necessarily.

Now, they do all these quick change things, the electronic stuff. I’m an old guy. I get it, but I don’t do it like a kid. I ask my grandchildren, “How do you do this?” They’ll also sit down and listen to a story. If they bite, like if they want to come in and try something at the theater, shy, or obeying, or interested or, “Yeah, I just want to try this. I’ve done all these other things at school.” Usually, they’ll get involved. They like it, and it’s them. Did that make sense? That it’s their expressing their understanding of this part, their understanding of the play.

I’ve done Shakespeare with high school kids at The Theater Project, not in schools. One, they learn the lines in one twentieth of the time it would take me to learn the lines. Two, if I work through it with them, which I do, “What do you say in there? What does that mean? Okay, we got to figure that out. Right, here’s the deal. Nobody says anything that you don’t understand. We stop. We figure it out.” Then, they do a performance that’s just live. Shakespeare probably would have liked it, and I’ve had older people say, “You know that’s the first time I understood Shakespeare when I saw that.” That’s it. For me, that’s a kick. I also believe in it because there’s a kid growing.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is it interesting to you that in this day and age where you can access almost anything at almost any time visually? You go on YouTube or you can listen to an audio book, or people have their own live channels where they’re doing … I don’t know, basically like I’m going to go shopping for my kids at Walmart and I’m going to put it up on YouTube, and it’s going to get like 1.4 million views. All of that, and we still want to see Harry Potter one and two on stage in London. We still want to go to New York and see live shows that sell out. I mean, we have access to anything we want, and we still want to see live theater. What do you think of that?

Al Miller:                                  There are three other people in this room. One behind me, and one to the side there, and you in front of me. I’d much rather talk to each one of you than to somehow see it screened and not, “Who is this person? Who is this person? Who is that person? What’s going on?” That’s what’s interesting. I think what gets us about theater, gets me on both sides of the lights. What gets us about theater is I’m watching human beings up there if I’m in the audience. If they slip up, there it is. It’s not, “Okay, let’s erase that in front.” If they slip up but they’re trying, I’m pulling for them so hard and usually they pull it off.

I remember seeing a show. It was actually at the Shaw Festival in Canada. A female character came down. The audience was on both sides and in the back. She came down between the audiences on the side and there was a fan on the stage that was a part of the set. She had on a boa in which she got closed to the fan, the boa started to blow across her face and she kept putting it down, and would blow again, and would blow right across her mouth and nose. It was sort of tickling her nose. You could see her fighting laughter. Finally, she had to give in and she started to laugh. Then, she pulled herself together and went on with the show. The whole audience applauded, like they’d seen this, “Look at what she did. We love that. We love that.” I think that’s part of what it is. I think we love a polished production and you mentioned New York.

I don’t tell anybody to go out there and mess up, but if you do, you’re still out there. “Go, somebody will pick you up, go,” which is also a nice thing in working with people in the show to develop an ensemble feeling, so that everybody is looking after everybody else. Nobody is going to say, “What you do that for?” They’re going to be picking each other up. That’s a good thing. That’s a good thing to learn.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah. I think that’s the opposite side of what people have gotten concerned about with children, which is that this is kind of the kids on stage culture these days that they’re also used to having their photos taken. They’re also used to being on video and selfies. In real life, if you’re actually going to do drama, then it’s not just about you. You actually have to do things differently and learn different skills.

Al Miller:                                  Right.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you think that one of the things that adults have difficulty with as they get older is the fact that we are expected to be perfect as we age? We’re supposed to be really good at whatever it is that we’re now doing, and so now we can’t do drama because then we might need to fail?

Al Miller:                                  I’m old enough to no longer need to be perfect, so that’s good.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m almost there too, so that’s a good thing.

Al Miller:                                  Oh, no you’re not, no, no.

Lisa Belisle:                             Not quite yet?

Al Miller:                                  No, no.

Lisa Belisle:                             Okay. All right.

Al Miller:                                  Maybe. Maybe, and I think kids get that too because I think there’s a lot of pressure on kids now. You’re going to do this, and you’re going to do that. Then, you’re going to do this. Where’s the playtime? Where that, “Okay, let me know when you’re done.” It’s a different world, but I still have conversations with … not people who were as old as I am, but people who are anywhere between 55 and 80 maybe, who say, “When I was growing up, you left the house in the morning. If you had had to be at home for lunch, then either your mom was hollering at the door or you got yourself home because you knew you’d be in trouble if you didn’t get home when you’re supposed to be there for lunch. Then you took off again when you didn’t have school. After school, you did what you did. You got home on time.” There wasn’t that nervousness.

Also, there wasn’t the kind of programming, a lot of which there is now. It’s not … not everybody does it. You got ballet on this day, and you’ve got theater class on this day, and then you’re studying for the college boards on this day, and then … I think the freedom makes the difference. If you have more freedom when you’re young, you still grow out of it. You at least remember it. Then when we’re adults, there’s a lot of pressure. We only take this ride once as far as we know. It’s kind of a sad thing if you get to be 65, 70, 75, and say, “Oh, I wish I had …” There’s always some of that, but for the bulk of your life, “I wish I had done …” That’s bad. Change whenever you can. Are you listening out there?

Lisa Belisle:                             I hope so. I’m not quite as old as the age range you just said, but I remember that my mother would send my younger brothers and I, and sisters and I, we would all go out into the neighborhood. The idea was that you come home when the street lights go on, so you could stay out as long as it was dark.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah. There you go.

Lisa Belisle:                             It was almost to the place where you could not see and the street lights came, and then on, and you all went home. I mean, that’s … My kids don’t really do that. I mean, they are older now, but I think there is something lost with all the scheduling of stuff that every hour seems to need to be accounted for.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah. I remember with our kids, who are all grown up. I think three of them are older than I am now. With our kids, especially when they were teenagers, young teenagers, wanted to hang around the house, and their mom or I say, “Get out of the house. Go, go, do something. Go.” “I just want to …” “Go, get out.” Then they’d go out and they’d find something to do and that would be good.

Lisa Belisle:                             Now, we don’t have them in the house enough. Some of us, they’re so busy doing other things elsewhere.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s kind of we’ve gone a little too far in the other direction.

Al Miller:                                  Yes. Maybe, yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             I mean, it’s not all bad. For example, The Theater Project has been around for how many years?

Al Miller:                                  Oh, it’s going on at 45, 46. Yeah, a long time.

Lisa Belisle:                             That’s a nice thing that has evolved and has become available for kids in Maine. It wasn’t at one time available. We actually have arts organizations where kids can reap benefit.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah. I think it’s good. We have a good open attitude toward kids.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you ever get children who come in because their parents think that this is a good idea for them, rather than them thinking that it’s a good idea for themselves?

Al Miller:                                  Yeah, not very often, but yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             How do you deal with that?

Al Miller:                                  If I sense that and the kid is old enough, I have to say, “Did you want to do this? Really?” “Ah, no. My mother told me I …” “How’s it going?” “It’s going all right.” “Okay, let me know.” Then, if a kid doesn’t want to do it, talk to the parents and say, “You know, Johnny didn’t really want to do this. We’d love to have him but not if he didn’t want to do it.” Usually, if they come in under pressure, they end up liking it but sometimes not.

Lisa Belisle:                             Then what happens? Do they quit or do they find another role within what you’re doing?

Al Miller:                                  If they don’t like it?

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah.

Al Miller:                                  If they don’t like it, one of us with whoever is teaching the class or directing the show would say, “If you’re going to do this, you need to be willing to do these things. These are the things we do. If you don’t want to do those, maybe you don’t want to be here. I’d love to have you here but decide if you want to be here or not.” The language varies depending on the age of the kid, or if they’re really on the younger end of the spectrum, speak to the parents and say, “Does Billy really want to do this or Betty?”

Lisa Belisle:                             Are you sometimes able to find like some kids don’t want to be on stage but they don’t mind painting sets? They don’t mind being behind the scenes, or you sometimes able to-

Al Miller:                                  Sometimes because of the nature of the building we work in, there isn’t a lot of set painting and that sort of stuff that we do. If the kid really wanted to learn how to do the lights, we try to arrange that or help. “Do you want to help with the production?” “Yeah.” “Okay. Then, we’ll find something. You can help the stage manager. You can help with the costumes and see how you like that. If you want to just get out here, then probably that’s what you ought to do, and then if you like you want to come back later, come back.”

Lisa Belisle:                             I like it. You’re giving them the chance to make a decision about what really should be play.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             They do call it a play.

Al Miller:                                  Yes, exactly. I remember a mother saying, “Yeah, she will,” growling.

Lisa Belisle:                             I appreciate you’re taking the time to come in today and the work that you’ve done. Clearly making a huge imprint on children around the State of Maine. I’ve been speaking with Al Miller who is the artistic director of The Theater Project, a nonprofit community-based theater in Brunswick. He also teaches theater workshops in various states as well as Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Keep up the good work.

Al Miller:                                  Thank you very much.

Lisa Belisle:                             Have fun.

Al Miller:                                  Thanks. I will.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street, in Portland’s Old Port where everybody is seen as a work of art, and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             Lauren Wayne is general manager and talent buyer for Crobo, the company that owns and operates the State Theatre and Port City Music Hall. They are also the exclusive live concert promoters for the new outdoor music venue at Thompson’s Point. Thanks for coming in today.

Lauren Wayne:                     Thanks for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             You really are very busy individual and it just continues to expand from what I can see.

Lauren Wayne:                     It has. We’ve been pretty fortunate over the last seven years since we open the State to continuously expand. It’s been pretty exciting for us.

Lisa Belisle:                             I remember the State as being somewhat of a sketchy-

Lauren Wayne:                     Oh, yeah. It was pretty sketchy. It shut down I think in the ’90s after it was a porn theater. I mean, if you consider that sketchy. Some people just think that’s normal.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think back in the ’90s, it still was a little sketchy, maybe it’s normalized now.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. It shut down. They reopened it as a nonprofit, the people who owned it and operated it. They tried to do that for a few years and it just failed. I came on board when what was then known as [inaudible 00:31:05] Company, which is now kind of morphed over the years into Live Nation as nationally known. We’re the exclusive promoters of the State but when I was there, we never owned or operate it. There was an owner. There was a renter, and then we rented it from the renter. There were three people who were kind of involved in the theater who weren’t really dumping any money into it. We did concerts there off and on for a few years, and then the city shut it down in 2006 because it was in extreme disrepair. I changed jobs. I’m going off here sorry. You’re not even asking me questions.

Lisa Belisle:                             No, you’re still answering the same one. It’s a good answer.

Lauren Wayne:                     Okay, good. I changed jobs and I came on with the company now with whom I’m … with who I’m with, whatever. I’ll just leave that dangling out there. They signed the lease in 2010, got me on board. Then we renovated it after the landlord actually had dumped a lot of money into it. I think all in all, it was a $1.4 million renovation.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s really become kind of a focal point for Congress Street.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. It’s going to become even more a focal point when we finally get our new marquee up, to Portland for the scaff and the plywood. That’s been up for the last couple of weeks. It really has. I think it was a really great time for us to come in music-wise and with the growth of the city, the way that it started and the way that it’s continuing to do that. It’s been pretty exciting to kind of have your hand in that, and watch it grow, and be a part of it. We do about 90 on average concerts a year there, not including what we’re doing down the street at our club. It’s busy. It’s a good focal point and it’s nice. To see like the growth and the renovation of the building and the street, beyond High Street has been pretty awesome since we opened.

Lisa Belisle:                             It seems like whenever somebody starts paying attention to a building or a venue of some sort, that other people around it, it almost gives them inspiration to do the same thing?

Lauren Wayne:                     It does. It really does. Since we’ve been there, we’ve had a bunch of restaurants that have opened up on that block. There’s been bars. There’s the Jewel Box. Blue’s been there a while. It’s been really cool because that whole block was in relatively pretty bad disrepair. Now, it’s like one of my favorite places to be?

Lisa Belisle:                             How did you come to be doing the work that you do?

Lauren Wayne:                     It’s a good question. I did not go to school for it. I had no experience. I just really love music. I went to school for history and journalism, and I don’t use any of it. Just kidding, I use journalism a little bit. I just kind of met somebody when I was hanging out at the [inaudible 00:33:48], back in the day. He knew a guy and he introduced me. This person happened to be [inaudible 00:33:54] who was in with the [inaudible 00:33:56] Company and he was looking for a marketing coordinator, and he hired me. That’s how I got into it. It’s really all who you know.

Lisa Belisle:                             I do think that’s an important point especially given what you are currently doing.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah, which was working at AAA and FedEx.

Lisa Belisle:                             Wait. That’s very interesting that you would kind of start off in a fairly mainstream corporate structure, and then by some I guess luck of association, you found your way into something that really fit you very well.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. It wasn’t what I was doing with FedEx and AAA. I was not … I was working obviously for huge corporations, but I was packing planes and being a dispatcher. When my friends and I moved to Portland, it was on a whim. We were from Sedona, Arizona. We came out. We visited. We fell in love. We signed a lease a week later. I knew I didn’t … I went to a relatively conservative yet I guess … Whatever, I’m not going to say the name. I went to a relatively conservative college, and so most of my friends at a college went right for it. They got the financial analyst jobs, and they became lawyers, and they went to work for big corporations and start to have families. I knew that just wasn’t what I wanted right away, and I knew I wanted to wait for something that really felt right. I’m really glad I did because it really paid off.

Lisa Belisle:                             How did you end up at a conservative college in the first place?

Lauren Wayne:                     It was kind of liberal but not really. It’s in the south, in Virginia and I knew that I want to go back to Virginia. I was born there and a lot of my mom’s family is there for history. I’m a big Civil War buff, and I thought I was going to go either be a historian or a television broadcast journalist, but while I was in school I realized when you’re a broadcast journalist, you cannot have opinions on the air. You need to be relatively neutral, and that was very, very hard for me so I had gone down the road long enough where I finished the degree and then I was concentrating now more on the history. Then, when I got to college I was like, “What the … I don’t know,” and so I just moved out west and just kind of figure out some stuff, had fun, did a lot of hiking and stuff.

Lisa Belisle:                             So that was actually a pretty magical place?

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. I didn’t hit there first. I landed in Albuquerque. I lived there for two and a half years and I was a recycling coordinator. I would go buy big-box stores, cardboard bales, and I would negotiate the price for cardboard bales at places like Target, and Walmart, and the big-box stores. Then, my brother at that time lived in Santa Fe. He moved to Sedona. He has ties and [inaudible 00:36:43] for college to start a garbage and recycling company. I moved there in 1998 I think or 1999, and I was his recycling driver. I would drive the big truck and sort recycling, and run into big gates when it was icy and take down some trees with the big box trailer.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s not the magic of Sedona that caused you to reinvent yourself somehow?

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah, it wasn’t. The magic wasn’t helping that truck. No, but it’s definitely a magical place, and I try to get back there every year. He and his wife still live there, so we go back for about two weeks every year if we can.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was music for you when you were younger? What did you sing? Did you play instruments?

Lauren Wayne:                     No, I did. I play the piano. I started late. My parents never pressured me in an instrument. Then when I was 13, I just decided that I wanted to play the piano and I’m really glad I did it. I practiced for three years, and I think started at that time where I was interested and stayed with it and was pretty okay at it. Then, that kind of just tailored or tickered off. My mom’s family is a huge music family, so we would go to like a beach vacation every other year starting when I was maybe eight or nine. My uncles, my mom has four brothers and a sister, and all of the uncles are musically inclined. They brought up the guitars, and we’d sing Crosby, Stills and Nash. That’s really what got me started.

Then, I’ve just really always, this sounds so cliche but for me it’s like been a huge part of my life. I mean, it can set your emotions. It can change your mood. One of my favorite things to pick me up if I’m feeling down, is just to like get in the car and drive with the windows down and like your favorite songs. It’s just … It’s magical really, and I knew I wanted to do something with it. I just didn’t know what it was, but it was not going to be on stage. That, I’ll tell you that. This is already hard enough.

Lisa Belisle:                             Why not on stage?

Lauren Wayne:                     I’m not really into that. It’s not for me, like I don’t really getting up in front of people.

Lisa Belisle:                             So how would you been a broadcast journalist?

Lauren Wayne:                     Well, on TV, it’s a different thing. If you don’t see them, they don’t exists, but on stage, it’s a totally different thing. It’s a hard, hard life. It’s a really hard life. I always knew that was not for me, but I never actually knew that there was a whole another side of it. A lot of people who I worked with now, and who were with the company or with my parent companies, they grew up in that and they knew right out at college, or they’re doing this in college. They’re hanging up posters for shows, and they were promoters. I just … I never knew that there was that side of business. I just never thought about it. Then when I found out that there’s this whole other side of the music industry, I knew that was for me.

Lisa Belisle:                             What is it about that side of the music industry that you find so appealing?

Lauren Wayne:                     I think for me, it was figuring out that you could have a part of putting on a show because I always love to go into concerts and I still do. It’s harder to get to ones that we’re not doing right now, but that when you’re at a show, how much you change as either like … If they’re working, or you’re there enjoying the show, or you’re on stage, or you’re a guitar tech, or you’re a promoter, it’s just this feeling of like connection and being part of a tiny community within a community. I was like, “I’m really kind of that’s cool to be a part of that. It’s cool to help put it on,” and then it’s like really cool when you’re there and kind of looking around, I mean like, “Oh my God, I had a totally a big part of making this happen for everybody,” and that’s really cool. It’s a nice feeling.

Lisa Belisle:                             What are some of the differences that you found between putting together a show lineup for the State for example in Thompson’s Point?

Lauren Wayne:                     There’s so many different things about it. The one thing that I feel really grateful for is that I’ve been on the ground floor of all three venues that we own and operate, and so you’re pretty much directing what happens and that’s a big thing for me. The State is totally different. It’s four walls, the infrastructures there. It’s a building. You’re not bringing in sound and lights every show. In terms of the booking, it’s not too, too much different. It’s really kind of what we do.

We have certain genres that we are more comfortable, what we call a talent buy for. It’s just the money is much larger at Thompson’s Point because the infrastructure is not there. You’re building and breaking down, and so it’s a lot more financially risky. In terms of like the lineup, you have to have a high risk tolerance for this job. You have to have a really high risk tolerance for Thompson’s Point. There are stuff that I’m not going to be taking a risk on there but fortunately, that stuff we can always bring at the theater.

I think most agents and musicians understand that. They don’t want to be put in a situation where they’re uncomfortable with under sales, and there’s only 1,000 people at a 5,000 capacity venue. That’s not going to make them feel good, and I don’t want to put them in that position. That’s another part of the job too. It’s a lot of loyalty and trust. The trust that the agent, the musician has in us as promoters to make them feel good and put on a great show, and the trust that we have in them that they’re going to come. They’re going to show up on time and they’re going to nail it for everybody; because it’s a huge responsibility when you sell either 800 tickets or 1,800 tickets at the State, or 5,000 to 7,000 at Thompson’s Point. You’ve done everything you can to the best of your ability, and the best way that you can up until the show day. Then when the musicians get on stage, you’re kind of like, “Okay please, please don’t walk off stage after three songs.”

Lisa Belisle:                             What about people like our producers, Spencer Albee who does Beatles Night every year? What? What the…

Speaker 5:                               Just check it out Lauren.

Lauren Wayne:                     I’ve heard all about it.

Lisa Belisle:                             Tell me about that relationship? That ongoing year after a year relationship with a local musician and his group that have also been really all over the United States, and maybe all over the world? We’ll say the United States.

Lauren Wayne:                     No. I mean the relationship I have with Spencer is definitely special, but it’s something that we, for lack of better word, cherish, the relationship with us and local musicians. It’s not something we get to do a lot at a venue as large as the State and especially at Thompson’s Point, but when we can, we love to do it. It’s been amazing both personally and professionally to watch Spencer do what he’s done with both his own music and with the music of the Beatles, and to be a part of this growth and all the nights is amazing. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

If I ever leave for Thanksgiving, I make sure that I fly home in time for Beatles Night. It’s that awesome, and just that feeling when you’re in the audience, it’s like the best night of the year for your local musicians either on stage or like all around you. It’s amazing sense of community, everybody is there. You’re either seeing your best friends on stage play music, or you’re surrounded by your best friends enjoying the music. It’s something that cannot be repeated. It’s awesome. Thank you.

Speaker 5:                               Thanks.

Lisa Belisle:                             This summer, Spencer also took part in a larger performance with Guster and with Ghost of Paul Revere. That’s another interesting example of a local, and national, or international talent.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yes. There will be occasions when a national artist doesn’t … We call it tour with package. When they’re touring with the package, they usually create their own experience on stage, which also means bringing their own support and opening bands. There are times when national artists ask us to put on local original acts, which is we love when we get those emails and calls. Guster because they have local ties to the community with Adam and Lauren, and being half of them from Vermont, they really get it and what like Portland is all about. They were very, very interested and wanted to create a music festival weekend, mini festival that really incorporated not only local businesses and retail, but local musicians. That was a really … I don’t know if you guys went to the other things are going on around town, but those guys were tired after that weekend. They did a lot, but that day with Spencer on stage and one of his band mates is actually one of my co-workers, McCrae Hathaway, so that was really cool for us to see him up there.

Lisa Belisle:                             It was also a fun crowd. We were there with our kids, and our kids are all older in their 20s. The youngest is 16. I don’t think she was there that night, but it was nice to be able to see other people in the community who were there for different reasons. There were some people were there because they remembered when Guster started out at Tufts, so 20 years ago or whatever it was.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah 25.

Lisa Belisle:                             25 years ago, yeah.

Lauren Wayne:                     Crazy.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah. Then, there were other people who are friends of Spencer, other people who are friends of Ghost of Paul Revere and other people … so everybody had kind of a different reason for being there but it felt very homey.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. That’s something that with the artists and with all the people involved, something that we pride ourselves on it. Any of our venues just creating, one a safe space, but a space where you feel connected and that you belong, which is something that’s really important to me and my stuff. As soon as you … Even just buy the ticket, your experience throughout the whole process, if you have questions, if you go online, if you call us on the phone and then when you give the ticket to the ticket scanner, when you walk into that venue, we want you to feel happy.

We want you to feel connected. We want you to feel … I know this is cheesy, but this is what we want. We want you to like hug your neighbor if you want to, or like do a dance. It’s very, very important to us that you have that good of a time at any of our venues. That’s really what music is all about. It brings people together, and when you’re there for those three hours, you should have like the best time of your life. We want to help you have that experience.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s an interesting thing for me now as a parent of 20-something year olds that to experience that they have the same musical taste and sometimes that I do, because it used to be my parents listened to something when they listened to their albums on vinyl. Then, I listened to my cassettes I guess because I was a little bit too young for 8-tracks; but now with iTunes, there’s so much crossover that it’s funny to know that other people like your children can like the same things you do.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. I mean I love Ninjago music because my five-year-old loves it. Just kidding, I don’t really like it but that’s what he’s listening to. Yeah, it’s cool. Obviously, streaming has just changed the way people are getting their music out, and the music business, and labels, and all that. I think it’s amazing and one of the best things. I’m not a musician now, so I don’t have to deal with licensing fees other than paying what we do at the venue, but it’s just bringing it to more people faster. It’s also, can be a con if you’re trying to keep up with the latest and greatest, but I don’t think most people are trying to do that anymore. They just want to discover something new, what they like.

I remember in terms of bringing the generations together, my parents used to have a beach party every year when we live in Georgia. They used to ship in sand. The whole driveway was filled with sand and it was like a neighborhood beach party and they played ’60s shag music and Motown. I love now ’60s shag music and Motown. I never listened to it as a kid because I’m like, “Gross, they’re dancing,” but now, it’s like Motown music is where it’s at.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is there also something about the emotions associated with the group that you’re with at the time? I mean you talked about these events with your family, with your parents, and how that has created this emotional tie to that music? Is this something that you are trying to capitalize on somewhat in music venues?

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. I mean obviously we’re for profit business and we’re not interested in losing money. Yeah, there’s something we said we … It’s not all fun and games and music, and I have to do P&L’s, and flash reports, and a lot of Excel spreadsheets. That is the downside of it, but the upside is not seeing any red on the Excel sheets. So sure, I mean in full disclosure, no we do not want to lose money, but we’re very good at what we do and what we do is good times and it’s all working out.

Lisa Belisle:                             We talked to Bill Ryan, the owner of the Red Claws about his time at Oxford playing speedway. One of the things he talked about was weather, and how that was just such a big part of every conversation because of course, their events are all outside.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yup, all outdoors, yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             This must be at least some part of the conversation when it comes to Thompson’s Point?

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah, of course. It’s a huge stress but you just have to kind of let it go because what are you going to do? I mean we’re promoters, and we’ve decided to do an outdoor amphitheater. That’s all you can do. You just hope that the weather is going to be good and there are things in place that will help us if we get rained out. We have weather insurance. We subscribed to a weather forecasting service that’s tailored to wherever you are with lightning strikes, and radiuses, and all that.

I mean, an example is Alabama Shakes this year. We had a sold out show. It’s sold out in a day with 7,500 people coming and it was forecasted for storms. I literally like was looking at a computer screen the entire 48 hours leading up to the show, and on the show, and my eyes the next day were like bleeding, and ended up working out great. We started the show a bit early with the support, and the Alabama Shakes ended up doing an encore and finishing the set just when lightning struck, so then we had to evacuate the venue. Yeah, weather plays a big part of it but you can’t control the weather, so you just kind of smile and hope that the Alabama Shakes get an encore.

Lisa Belisle:                             It seems like Portland has been able to attract some pretty impressive names maybe in the last 10 years probably before that but seemed like there was a little bit of a downturn when I talked to Carol Noonan from Stone Mountain.

Lauren Wayne:                     Stone Mountain, yup.

Lisa Belisle:                             She was saying that there was a little bit of a low, where there wasn’t a lot of live music, but now even on Western Maine, she’s able to capitalize on the fact that people really are enjoying live music again.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. There’s a lot to that. There’s a lot of different parts. I think a lot of it has to do with the more active live music is in a city or a market, the more stuff you’re going to be getting. I think we’ve played a big part in that just with the State Theatre being open. No band wants … Any developing band wants to come and play a small venue like Port City but then have nowhere else to play the bigger that they get. With places like Portland House of Music, and Blue, and One Longfellow, you have the ability to get these developing bands in there. Eventually get to Port City, and their goal one day is to play the State Theatre at 2,000 cap. It’s like the sweet spot in venues and put them to more activity or getting through Portland.

Agents and other musicians are taking notice, so they’re like, “Wait, that band played there. I want my band to play there.” Carol Noonan is doing awesome things out west, and there are some wineries now up north. It’s great. Cellardoor brings in these like amazing acts. It’s cool, and it’s really great to … We’re not, it’s not a competition. We know that … I mean, I know that I can’t be doing this without the smaller rooms in town, I just can’t. For me, I owe them. When somebody comes to me and it doesn’t necessarily fit in any of our fabric, in our venues say, “Hey, there’s this awesome room down the street, you want to check it out.”

Yeah, the more activity I think a city gets, or a market, it’s just going to get better, and better, and better. There was that dry spell when the State closed and it was awful. Then when we opened, even that fall in 2010, it was real hard to remind agents and musicians that, “Okay, Portland was viable market. It’s not been for four years. It’s been pretty dark, give us a chance again.” Then, that was seven years ago, and now, it’s not a lot reaching out anymore. It’s a lot of taking calls and emails about agents being proactive in getting their bands through Maine, not just Portland.

Lisa Belisle:                             What would you say your biggest challenges in this industry?

Lauren Wayne:                     One of the biggest challenges that I think we’ve done pretty well with is we’re what we consider a tertiary market. It’s a small market. When you think that Portland is only what? It’s about 65,000 people but the surrounding suburbs just 300,000, that’s small when we were doing 250 shows a year, and that’s just our venues. Then, you have all the other venues. One thing that we’ve really tried to do is these bands are making so much more money in primary and secondary markets that their ticket prices are a lot higher.

It’s really been training like the bands and the agents like, “When you’re coming to Portland, I can’t have a $100 ticket. I can’t even have $75 ticket.” It’s got to be an Elvis Costello for that high of a ticket price. We’ve kind of inched. We started out relatively inexpensive, and then you inch your way up until people are used to it, plus people are doing better than 10 years ago. The growth that the city has seen is definitely helping that. Our average ticket price now at the State is $35 dollars when it used to be 25. That’s a big challenge that we had, but it’s working out.

Another challenge is just I’ve been so grateful for my staff just putting on a show is really difficult. I do the buying and the marketing, and then basically have a lot of trust and loyalty in my staff to put the show on. They go through some really challenging times and aspects with doing a show, and they don’t get a lot of the credit, and they’re amazing. It’s 250 shows a year. That’s a lot of shows and we’re small crew. The women and men who work for us in production, and the bar, and just general staff is just … It’s amazing, so thank you guys.

You always say you can’t do it without each other, but I literally can’t. If I just booked and marketed a show and sold the tickets and then walked away, there won’t be a show. There’s all kinds of challenges, but whatever. We take them one day at a time really, and then your show is ending and then you’re on to the next show.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, this has really been a pleasure.

Lauren Wayne:                     Oh, thanks for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             This conversation, I’ve been speaking with Lauren Wayne who is general manager and talent buyer for Crobo, the company that owns and operates the State Theatre and Port City Music Hall. Oh, thank you by the way for bringing Delta Rae in.

Lisa Belisle:                             I love Delta Rae [crosstalk 00:56:39] with my daughter.

Lauren Wayne:                     You’re welcome and thanks to Delta Rae.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah, great group. They are the exclusive live concert promoters for the new outdoor music venue at Thompson’s Point. I appreciate your time.

Lauren Wayne:                     Thank you.

Lisa Belisle:                             You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 329. Our guests have included Al Miller and Lauren Wayne. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview with each week show, sign up for our E-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you’ve heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producers are Paul Koenig and Brittany Cost. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at